SLIC employees want pact with new owners

by Namini Wijedasa
Trade unions in the newly privatised Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) were gearing last week to start negotiations with the incoming management for a collective agreement that would ensure the protection of employees’ earlier rights and privileges.

Efforts to draft such an agreement before privatisation had failed because the state management had reportedly "not shown any interest", union leaders said.

"We are concerned that there wasn’t a collective agreement in place at the time of take-over," said Palitha Atukorale, chief organiser of the United National Party-backed Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS).

SLIC has around 2,600 workers, the majority of whom are represented by the JSS and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party-backed Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya (SLNSS).

"When we wanted an agreement to be drafted before privatisation, the management dilly-dallied and prevented the discussions from going ahead," said Leslie Devendra, SLNSS chief. "Now that the deal is done, we

have not given up efforts to get a collective agreement signed."

Harry Jayawardena’s Dilstilleries/Aitken Spence consortium made the winning bid for SLIC. Their plans for the insurance company are not immediately clear and workers have expressed particular concern over employment security.

Devendra said the unions will start their campaign as soon as the new board of directors is appointed. Failure by the management to accede to their request will precipitate trade union action, he said.

"We need specific assurance from the new investor that our previous rights and privileges as well as terms and conditions will be preserved," Devendra explained. "There must be security of employment. These are basic things which we must agree on before there can be good industrial relations with the new investor."

The union leaders explained that they are unlikely to make demands for new benefits or privileges, such as increments. These can be taken up at the future renewal of any agreement that is drafted, they said.

Meanwhile, Devendra observed that employees welcomed the proposal to issue them 10 per cent of SLIC shares but expressed disappointment that most workers are likely to sell them at the earliest.

"The idea behind giving them shares was to make the workers shareholders in the company," he commented. "I have been trying my best to educate them... to make them keep the shares... but money is more important."

The shares are priced at Rs. 134 each, the amount at which the new investor will have to purchase them. The most senior employee could get up to Rs. 400,000 for his shares; anything above the figure is unlikely because the 10 per cent share issue will be divided among a considerably large workforce.

Devendra said employees should keep their shares as they may appreciate in future.