All doors closed
The university non-academic staff strike has entered its
third week. Universities throughout the country are paralysed. Lectures
are cancelled and students once again face the postponement of exams.
Discussions are being held among the Tertiary Education Ministry
officials, University authorities and trade unions of the non-academic
staff but there seems to have been no breakthrough.
a welcome break for many students, the issue of the non-academic
staff strike is causing quite a few setbacks for us," said
one university student. "Just when most universities have settled
into some kind of routine, something has to go off track, causing
yet another situation where students have to put their lives on
Sri Lanka must
be the only country with this 'eternal student' syndrome, says another
frustrated student. "Time is a crucial factor, especially for
students on the verge of getting out of university. Having already
waited long to get into campus, it's frustrating to have to sit
around and just wait when most of us are ready to move on."
academic staff are not on strike, lectures cannot be conducted because
it is the non-academic staff who open the halls, clean and maintain
them, explained Prof. I.K. Perera, Vice Chancellor of the University
of Sabaragamuwa. "We only know what the University Grants Commission
tells us," Prof. Perera said. "The Secretary to the Ministry
had a meeting and said that most of the demands have been granted."
At Ruhuna University,
Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ranjith Senaratne said examinations have
been postponed due to the strike. Prof. Senaratne said they have
had a dialogue with the strikers and there have been no incidents.
"They say there are anomalies and are asking for three increments,"
the V.C. said. The matter has now been referred to the Labour Commissioner
for arbitration. "I am very keen to see an early settlement
of the issue, particularly since the university is celebrating its
silver jubilee soon. We cannot have a celebration while a strike
is going on."
Gunasekera, Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya, said
they have had a few incidents of intimidation of workers who did
not want to strike. He said many of the staff did not wish to be
part of the strike. "Most people want to have their salaries.
The UGC has asked us to pay salaries to those who are not on strike.
However, it is difficult for a few to work while the strike is going
there had been disruptions to the water service and some taps had
been damaged. The striking staff claimed that this was done by outsiders.
"However, I told them that if this does not stop, I would have
to call in the police. The water service was restored shortly after,"
Prof. Gunasekera said. He said they had postponed examinations and
lectures. However, the Medical and Veterinary Faculties have decided
to continue clinical work for the final year students so that they
could keep to their schedules. He said if a settlement is reached
soon, the new intake could be taken in October, as scheduled.
media spokesman for the Inter- University Trade Union Joint Committee
which represents the non-academic staff said they have put forward
seven main demands. He said the joint committee is made up of 24
unions. Explaining the main demands, he said that in 1989, an agreement
had been reached between the ministry, university authorities and
unions that salaries should be reviewed and revised every three
years. Since 1998, there has been no revision, Mr. Lokugamage said.
The first demand is to grant the revisions that have been withheld
for six years.
Mr. Lokugamage, from 1992, when double batches of students were
admitted, the staff had been given an increase of 25%, referred
to as a backlog allowance, which was also reflected in their EPF,
ETF and gratuity. Since the B.C. Perera Committee report in 1997,
this allowance was discontinued. Instead, those who were receiving
this allowance were paid a monthly compensation allowance (MCA)
of Rs. 500. This meant a drop in salary to many.
The MCA is
paid only to those who joined prior to March 4, 1997, although those
who joined after this date are also doing the same quantum of work,
Mr. Lokugamage said. The second demand is that the loss in salary
be restored and this allowance be paid to all.
to him, the B.C. Perera Committee recommended three salary increments
for some categories of technical staff. This, he said, has been
misinterpreted and the increments granted to 59 other categories,
which creates anomalies. They are demanding that this anomaly be
rectified and all categories be given these increments. Thereafter,
they say the technical categories should be given the three special
been anomalies in various categories of non-academic staff, which
also need to be rectified, he said. Another grievance is that the
distress loan, which they are entitled to within a few days of applying,
takes four years to be paid. "Finally we ask that the Non-Academic
Services be evaluated, appreciated and a report given."
Mr. Lokugamage, these are their main demands. The other matters
raised are those relevant to various, specific unions in the Joint
Committee. They concern matters such as changes of names of the
category. For example, he said the name Non-Academic Staff, translated
into Sinhala implies that they are without any education whatsoever.
This should be corrected, he said.
Tertiary Education Mr. Kabir Hashim said there were a total of some
28 demands, of which 19 have been resolved. Among these 19 demands
three are considered main demands. The Minister said an interim
salary allowance of Rs. 5,000 up to the end of the year, has been
agreed on until the state sector salaries are increased. Rs.3,300
will be given with the August salary and the balance in four equal
instalments till the end of the year.
said the union was continuing its protests as their demand for three
increments given to technical categories had not been granted. This
was refused because the Attorney General ruled that it was not applicable.
The matter has now been referred to the Labour Commissioner.
given the maximum," Mr. Hashim said. "I believe there
are some irresponsible elements who have other motives than obtaining
has been made and students are supposed to just wait in limbo until
matters are resolved," complained a student. "At this
point it may not seem like an issue but this is going to cause quite
an upheaval once we get back to campus. The term is going to get
affected, the next term will be pushed back, exams will be postponed
and vacation time will be cut short. What may seem like just a month,
or maybe even more at the rate things are going, will delay yet
another academic year."
the saga is all too familiar.