Welfare levy on seafarer employers will hit Sri Lankan sailors | Sunday Observer
Package was reached after talks with stakeholders – DG/MS

Welfare levy on seafarer employers will hit Sri Lankan sailors

16 October, 2022

A leading maritime trade union and the industry yesterday warned that the sector was heading for a catastrophe if plans to levy a welfare tax on the employers of Sri Lankan seafarers is allowed to go ahead.

A Gazette draft on August 9 permits the authorities to levy a monthly levy of US$ 50 on a seafarer officer and US$ 40 on a rating from next year.

The money is meant to cover a welfare insurance scheme for seafarers also known as the Social Security Provision under the Maritime Labour Convention of which Sri Lanka is a signatory but on the other hand it is optional and not binding, President of the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka (NUSS) Palitha Atukorale told the Sunday Observer.

“This tax will have to paid by the employer and, therefore, foreign ship owners have flatly refused to comply and instead have warned that they would seek fresh recruitment from other Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.”

“This would be a disaster to the sector that has an estimated 16-24,000 active Sri Lankan seafarers employed on foreign vessels and together this number rakes in an estimated US$ 500 million in foreign remittances to the country annually,” Atukorale said.

The authorities should have an immediate re-think on the issue and roll back the plan at the very earliest to protect the sector and the urgently needed foreign exchange earnings, he said.

The NUSS maritime trade union looks into the welfare of Sri Lankan seafarers and is affiliated to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF) with a membership of 50 million sea workers throughout the world.

His concerns were echoed by Captain Nalin Peiris, Chairman of Manaco Shipping that recruits Sri Lankan seafarers, who said that the authorities have been wrongly advised on the issue by subject officials.

“This is bureaucratic bungling at the very highest and it will drive foreign employers to look elsewhere for their cadre. On one hand this money will be used for the welfare of the seafarers such as medical and retirement benefits but on the other the sum is far too high”, Captain Peiris said.

“For example, the employers of Indian seafarers are required to pay a monthly IRs. 500 per month while in Sri Lanka it will be something like Rs. 5,000 for the same period,” he said.

The Gazette, if approved by Parliament will come into effect on February 23.

Director General Merchant Shipping Gamini Seniviratne said the welfare fee was reached after several discussions with all stakeholders in the maritime sector.

However, he said that the matter was still open for discussion with trade unions and others and if necessary some amendments could be made but the welfare scheme will nonetheless remain in the frame.

The Merchant Shipping Office got involved in the matter following a directive from the Labour Ministry, Senivaratne said.

A senior official who is spearheading the scheme said this welfare package should be monitored by the State and not by private entities since it will be more secure and beneficial to the Sri Lankan seafarers.

According to ILO regulations the Government is required to get involved in such matters and, therefore, we are working towards that end, the official who wished to remain anonymous said.