President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have been urged to provide three months’ time for public consultations and representations on the new Colombo Port City Commission gazette, a leading trade union said this week in letters to the two leaders.
“This is to inform you, we as a responsible trade union is seriously concerned over the cabinet decision and the gazette titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission’ dated March 19 to establish a regulatory management Commission for the Colombo Port City Economic Zone that reveals serious deviations and exemptions from ‘the law of the land’ negating the often promised ‘One Country – One Law’ by this government headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary – Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union, said in the letters.
The draft bill gazetted for the Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCEC) provides the proposed Commission the sole power to grant registrations, licences, authorisations and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in and from such zone. Making it an exclusive power over the whole of the newly created Colombo Port City (CPC) geographical area, the following seven enactments have been gazetted as having no application within the CPC area: 1. Urban Development Authority Act; 2. Municipal Council Ordinance (chapter 252); 3. Commercial Mediation Centre of Sri Lanka Act; 4. Town and Country Planning Ordinance (chapter 269); 5. Strategic Development Projects Act; 6. Public Contracts Act and 7. Board of Investment of Sri Lanka law.
“Another very intriguing factor is the main currency allowed for transactions within CPCSEZ. From all that is provided for in the draft Act, the US dollar seems the main currency with the Sri Lanka Rupee having strict conditional use,” the letters, released to the media, said.
In the context of the Commission having powers to exempt or amend labour laws, this is a serious legal provision that could definitely lead to two sets of laws in this country if granted. It could contradict Article 14A of the Constitution that guarantees fundamental rights and adversely affect the status, rights and privileges of all or most employees in the private sector given the advantage of Section 64(1) of the CPCSEZ Act if adopted as law.
There was such an attempt almost 40 years ago when Free Trade Zones were to be established under the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) Act. The then government of President J.R. Jayewardene was restrained from enacting anti-labour provisions in the GCEC Act through trade union interventions. The Supreme Court then decided there cannot be two different sets of laws in the country and the GCEC Act was accordingly amended, the union said