by Tilak S. Fernando

For the first time in the history of Diplomatic Service Sri Lanka High Commission has gone on record, after 54 years of establishing its offices in London, by one of its ex-staff firing an embarrassing bullet and taking this most prestigious Sri Lankan Office abroad to the British Industrial Tribunal for ' Unfairness'.

Mr. Peter Wijesinghe, who had been an employee of the London Mission from its inception in 1948 until end of July 2002 said that his contention was nothing but to seek justice and redress for 14 years of his lost pension benefits.

Along with many of his long served colleagues at the High Commission Mr. Wijesinghe's contract of employment was terminated at the end of July 2002 as per " DOAD Message No. 105", a circular issued within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Colombo, marked as " Internal Distribution - Confidential and Most Immediate".

The memo has given direction to " take immediate notice to the present locally recruited staff in the attached schedule (Messrs. P. Wijesinghe, S. Gunaratne, Wilagala, Waheed, H. K. Premadasa, K Jayarante, B.S. Jayawardena and ADD Perera, and terminate their services on 30.6.2002 and issue letters of appointment to eight persons who came from (1) Willorawatta, Moratuwa (2) Sri Saddharmaodyaya Mawatha, Moratuwa (3) 3rd Lane Koralawella, Moratuwa, (4) Nagawatta Road, Maharagama (5) Soysa Pura, Moratuwa, (6) Kuppiyawatta Road, Dematagoda, (7) Nikape Dehiwela and (8) Gunawardhanaramaya Road, Koralawella, Moratuwa.

According to Peter Wijesinghe, when he was absorbed as an employee of the High Commission in London (in 1948) a PSPF Scheme or any other facility for locally recruited staff to contribute to a pension fund was non-existent until 1958. However, although he had been in the service since 1948 he was not made a member of the PSPF (Provident Fund) Scheme until the year 1964. The very fact that he had been classified as an ' Overseas Based Staff ' (similar to the term ' Home Based Staff' now used for non-diplomats who come from Colombo) he was unable to make any National Insurance Contributions to the British National Health Insurance - contributions of which enhance once pension at retirement age. However, after a few years of his becoming a contributor to the PSPF fund in Sri Lanka, the whole scheme had been abolished. Only at that point he was allowed to make NHI contributions to the Department of Social Security in the UK.

"Having worked for 54 years I have no time now to go looking for jobs outside or start on a new pension scheme", says Wijesinghe and he very strongly believes that the Sri Lanka Government has a moral obligation to some degree to give him a living allowance for the lost 14 years (from 1948- 1964) of his pension rights and benefits.

Prior to seeking his last trump card, which is the UK Industrial Tribunal, seeking justice he has written to the High Commission in London, Foreign Secretary in Colombo, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, each and every Cabinet Minister in Sri Lanka seeking redress, but up to now the only reply he has received is from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which state that as a local recruit he is not entitled to any of the allowances he has claimed. Distressed Wijesinghe says 'this is how my motherland treats me having given my dedicated service for 54 long years, which is more than half a century!

The Employment Tribunal in the UK is a legally constituted body appointed by The Lord Chancellor and The Secretary of State for Employment and Industry whose function is to hold official inquiries to resolve disputes between employer and employee.

The Regional Secretary of the Employment Tribunals in London WC1 on 19 July, under reference 2203484/2002 has written to Mr. Peter Wijesinghe advising him that: " A Chairman of the Tribunals, Mr. Menon, has directed that the application to be served on High Commission for Sri Lanka, we have instigated proceedings to serve it through diplomatic channels. The time allowed for them to enter an appearance is 2 months and 14 days from the date that the Commission receives a copy of your application. I will be writing to your further as soon as I receive a reply from them."

Sri Lanka High Commission has been very much in the news of late in a Sri Lankan Sunday News Paper and the latest action by a member ex-staff of the High Commission, who has worked for 54 years and who had been recognised as a loyal employee and given a London-Colombo-London free air passage on completion of 25 years of service with the Government of Sri Lanka, will no doubt help to raise some eye brows in the British Foreign Office, whatever the outcome of the Industrial Tribunal may be. Or will the High Commission choose to seek diplomatic immunity and wipe all its dirt under the diplomatic carpet, remains to be seen. Peter Wijesinghe now repents having worked 14 hours a day on a contract basis even after reaching the Sri Lankan pension age, in an effort to help the country when the High Commission was unable to get down staff from Colombo due to various difficulties it had encountered with the British Foreign Office.