Address by Hon Athauda Seneviratne, Minister of Labour Relations and Foreign Employment at the Panel Discussion on Technical Cooperation, 6th June 2006

Decent Work as a Global Goal: The Role of Development Cooperation


On behalf of the government and the delegation of Sri Lanka, it is a great honour for me to address this panel on Technical Cooperation with a specific focus on Decent Work as a Global Goal: The Role of Development Cooperation.


I understand that Sri Lanka is one of the first countries in Asia, where we have taken the Decent Work concept into our national development planning. In addition to the Decent Work Country Programme, which we finalized in 2004 together with the trade unions and the employers’ organisation, I am very pleased to inform you that we have now finalised the National Policy on decent work with a National Plan of action that gives directions on key areas for implementation in Sri Lanka.  

We are looking forward to presenting the Decent Work  National Policy and Plan of Action at the Asian Regional Meeting in Busan, Korea, in August. I would like to thank ILO for the extensive technical assistance provided during this process.   

The objectives of our National Policy for Decent Work are manifold. Firstly, it seeks to give full effect to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and to promote an excellent compliance record as a means of improving both economic and social development including competitiveness. It also seeks to operationalize our National Employment Policy and our National Productivity Policy, in order to create more and better jobs for women and men. It aims at minimising the social costs of economic and legal reforms, promotes appropriate and gender sensitive social protection and seeks to improve the management of occupational safety and health. Finally, it seeks to encourage tripartite partners to participate in the preparation and implementation of national development.

We have been  testing the Decent Work concept for some time, to  understand the synergy between its four pillars, creating employment opportunities, promoting social dialogue and strengthening social protection systems as well as ensuring basic rights. Tripartism is the essential thread that holds the Decent Work programme together.


In May this year, my Ministry together with ILO organised a donor conference in Colombo to present the National Policy and Plan of Action on Decent Work to seek assistance for the various projects. We are also briefing interested donors on our plans for restructuring the Ministry for modernising labour administration which includes capacity building in vital areas such as Occupational Safety and Health, Labour Inspection, Gender equality and social dialogue. We welcome all of you to join us in taking these new initiatives forward.


Sri Lanka is a small island state vulnerable to natural disasters including floods, droughts and most recently the unprecedented tsunami. We have learned through the years that we must strengthen national protection systems, building on the enormous natural generosity and energy of our own people who are the first to respond in any emergency. International, humanitarian assistance can then be focused on filling the gaps, strengthening national efforts, encouraging national capacity building and fostering national ownership of the projects.

In our experience, once the emergency survival needs are met, livelihood training and assistance to small and medium enterprises to promote employment, are the key steps in the recovery stage. My Ministry has jointly implemented with ILO the livelihood recovery activities in all five tsunami affected areas.

A very welcome development has been the support extended by Workers and Employers organisations  in the technical cooperation programme. For instance, the Irish Trade Union Confederation has joined with key local trade unions to implement a project in the informal sector within tsunami affected areas to broaden peoples’ participation in Government reconstruction activities. All this indicates the changing paradigms of technical cooperation and new potential for  Decent Work to become a reality.

ILO’s expertise in this regard and its tripartite constituent mechanisms proved to be successful in Sri Lanka and should be better utilised in the UN system with regard to peace building and post-conflict reconstruction.


ILO has acquired rich experience in technical cooperation over the years. In Sri Lanka, ILO’s numerous programmes over the last 20 years, have been both innovative and substantial.  The SIYB Programme, initiated by the ILO eight years ago, has left deep and positive tracks. Today we have an SIYB Association, which runs training programmes on small business and entrepreneurship development and it is financially self sustaining. We also have a positive experience of the technical assistance provided by the ILO in relation to social protection, factory improvement programme, labour market reform, including the reorganisation of our labour inspection system, promoting workplace cooperation and social dialogue, elimination of  child labour and gender equality.   


In our experience, there has also been good collaboration between the ILO and funding agencies such as the World Bank and ADB on technical assistance at the country level. We should encourage ILO to develop these contacts further with a view to coordinating programme interventions and increasing funding available for technical cooperation at the global, regional and national levels.


Youth Employment is a global challenge for developed and developing countries and it is therefore useful to share experiences at the international and regional levels. Sri Lanka is one of the lead countries on the YEN programme and I am pleased to inform this Committee that a draft of the new National Plan of Action on Youth Employment is ready for consultations. We would welcome a discussion in this Committee on how such plans could be implemented and on the possibilities of any innovative sources of funding.

Thank you

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