Fear and fury: Aftermath of FTZ worker’s killing

By Leon Berenger

While a bullet from a police rifle resulted in a death, in the ongoing clashes between workers and the authorities over the proposed controversial Private Pension Scheme, protests continue to rock several parts of the country. Roshen Chanaka Ratnasekera-22, a factory hand at the Katunayake Free Trade Zone was shot and critically wounded last Monday as police opened fire on thousands of workers who protested the controversial Private Pension Scheme , with some 250 others being admitted to hospital as well.

Anger at the death of a co-worker
Biyagama FTZ trade union protest
Heavy army presence at the FTZ, on Wednesday morning
Following the news of the death of Romesh, workers surrounded the Seeduwa police station, which had to be guarded by the army
Roshen’s sister laid on stratcher after fainting on seeing her brother’s body in the hospital

The victim subsequently succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Ragama Teaching Hospital, prompting the authorities to deploy heavily armed security forces personnel in and around the FTZ which had turned into a near ghost town following the shooting.

Soon after last Monday’s incident the authorities ordered the closure of the factories and withdrew the police force of the Zone and replaced it with heavily armed security forces personnel as tension ran high among the workers and the villagers who were angry over the shooting that claimed an innocent life.

Roshen had taken up work at the factory four months back to garner money for an English language course which he hoped to follow in the city, his father- Quintus Ratnaweera said.

“I am a blacksmith. There is sufficient bread on the table and my son did not need to work as a factory hand. But he was determined to follow the English course, saying it would help him secure employment overseas,” he lamented.

“We are a closely knit family and devout Roman Catholics. The establishment must take full responsibility for this tragedy. It should not be allowed to happen again to any one. My son was also fond of wearing his hair long and that was one other reason why he joined the FTZ as he said there was no rule against workers opting to wear their hair long,” he said.

The father also said since the incident, many politicians both local and otherwise had visited his home with promises of employment to his other children and financial assurances. “All this is well said and done-but at the end of the day, nothing could fill the loss,” Mr. Ratnasekera said.

Meanwhile several workers who did not wish to be identified told the Sunday Times that the police had over-reacted to the situation, by assaulting hapless factory employees, including pregnant women and in some cases even managers.

At one point villagers had to bulldoze a wall surrounding a factory to allow workers to escape from the assault after they were trapped inside. They said the situation was provoked by two local politicians from the area who had entered the Zone with goons, and together with the police had led the violent charge against them including those who had nothing to do with the protest.

At least seven factories were damaged and workers fear that it will take up to three months or even more to get things back to normal, since computers and files had been damaged. They said even female employees who had locked themselves inside toilets were dragged out by women police constables, forced to kneel on the floor and brutally assaulted cheered on by their male counterparts.

Moreover most of the injured were denied medical treatment or access to hospital for several hours, but instead jammed into cells at the local police stations, they charged. Meanwhile, a large number of workers have decided to quit the Free Trade Zone fearing reprisals from state agencies and regional politicians.

“We have already heard of midnight visits to boarding houses, persons searching for particular names. These night callers could be any one, police, goons leading to a fear psychosis,” said Chamila Thushari with the Dabindu or Drop of Sweat trade union.

The present situation in the FTZ has worried the villagers in the area who depend on the workers for their own livelihood. For instance, Susantha Lal is a grocer in the Zone and the bulk of his customers are factory hands. “If the present standoff situation continues, it won’t be good for business, and the authorities must take this into consideration too,” he told the Sunday Times.

His fears were echoed by Bernard Silva who operates a boarding house for FTZ workers. “We can give our tenants limited protection, but when the police come crashing in, there is not much we can do,” he said fearfully.

Protests: For and against pension scheme

There were protests both for and against the proposed pension scheme in the city and suburbs throughout the week. Pro-government demonstrators ranging from pavement hawkers to politicians chanted slogans accusing the JVP for the labour unrest, saying the Marxists were using the blood of poor workers for political mileage.

In one instance a group armed with clubs and wooden poles, who were proceeding towards Liptons Circus to disrupt a protest by the JVP, were stopped by the police, averting a clash.

JVP protest against the pension scheme
A pro- government demonstration in progress.

ix by Gemunu Wellage, Sanka Vidanagama, M.A. Pushpa Kumara, Mangala Weeraskera, Saman Kariyawasam and Athula Devapriya

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Other News Articles
Pension Bill coming again with new look
India reiterates joint statement
E.coli: Lanka to closely check imported food
HRC summons Ragama Hospital directors
Fishing row deepens: 40 more arrested
This is the way to beat up protesters
Living off the shelf
To do or not to do
Death on the roads – a daily story
Fear and fury: Aftermath of FTZ worker’s killing
We won’t stand for amendments to Pension Scheme: Trade unions
This is a genuine workers uprising: FTZ Workers Union
If I am killed, those in high places should be held responsible- Fonseka
Police nab impostor who preyed on parents seeking school admission
All systems ‘go’ for LG polls in the North
Forced to falsely implicate seniors for ragging, undergrad claims
Slain FTZ worker laid to rest amidst controversy over funeral arrangements
Detention of persons arrested for 48 hours continues
How Elite Forces throttled LTTE
The war as it was


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 1996 - 2011 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved | Site best viewed in IE ver 8.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution