threat looms large
By Nalaka Nonis and Santhush Fernando
A threat of a massive strike looms in the near future as the All
Ceylon Trade Unions' Congress (ACTUC), warns that the Government
will have to face serious consequences, if it does not meet the
demands of the working masses.
trade unions of the ACTUC had organised a protest campaign during
the lunch hour in front of government establishments on October
7 and staged a demonstration in the evening in front of the Colombo
Fort Railway Station. Although the private sector trade unions had
not been involved, they had extended their support along with trade
unions affiliated to opposition political parties.
of the ACTUC, JVP Parliamentarian K.D. Lal Kantha, said that the
Executive Committee of the ACTUC has decided to stage a token strike
on October 21 (Tuesday), as the penultimate step demanding a salary
increase in keeping with the cost of living, a stop to the pruning
of employee rights and a halt to the sale of national resources,
including government enterprises.
He said that
if the Government does not heed these demands, which are being put
forward in the interests of 800,000 public servants as well 5 million
private sector employees, the trade unions would have no choice
but to call a massive island-wide strike to force the Government
to take the necessary measures.
He also called
on public servants not to be misled by the false propaganda of the
United National Front Government. He pointed out that the previous
government had granted an allowance of Rs. 2,200 as a temporary
measure until salaries were increased. He said public servants brought
this government into power because it had promised a minimum salary
increase of Rs. 3,000, but now it is trying to give a mere Rs. 800
He said this
was not at all reasonable as the cost of living has increased by
448 units in the year 2002 alone. He also said that the Government
had up to now axed 53 labour laws and is planning to slash more.
He stated that
through its program "Regaining Sri Lanka", the Government,
in return for the Rs. 450 billion donor aid, has pledged to the
World Bank to sell national assets and axe the public servants salaries,
in the guise of speeding up privatisation and slashing government
He said that
although the UNF-allied Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) does not
officially support the ACTUC, he would extend his hand to all progressive
members of the JSS to join with it to win the demands of the working
Gamini Lokuge told The Sunday Times that the real motive behind
the proposed strike is to cripple the peace process and the development
work of the Government.
He said that
the problems being faced now are due to ill-planned decisions of
the previous government. In regard to privatisation he said that
it was an election promise of the Government to privatise loss making
establishments. He warned that the Government would take every step
possible to see that everything is normal, in the event of a strike.
recent strikes which crippled the health and railway sector, had
drastic consequences both for the economy and the public at large.
Thousands of people representing the poor in the country, were made
to suffer immensely from the two major strikes, as the strikes affected
two vital services.
and the trade unions blamed each other for the damage they had caused
to public property, as well as for the immense hardships caused
to the people. The government points the finger at the trade unions
which have resorted to strikes, saying that they are politically
motivated as, according to it, the JVP is instigating the unions
to topple the government, whereas trade unions maintain that the
government has failed to fulfil their fundamental demands.
strike, which was launched demanding the rectification of salary
anomalies among health workers caused great inconvenience to the
public and damages to state property (see box story). Finally the
strike ended after a pledge was given by the government to rectify
concluded railway strike had among its demands, compensation of
Rs. one million to those who retire without joining the newly established
Railway Authority, pensions for workers who have less than 10 years
service, a salary increase of 75 percent, and pensions for those
joining the Authority.
of the Railway Department N.F.U.K. Fernando told The Sunday Times
that some of the demands were unreasonable with some kind of political
hand in the strike. He has estimated a loss of Rs. three million
for the Railway Department by the damage caused to compartments
and trains by the strikers, which the CID is investigating.
He added that
the Department had promoted a guard inspector as an executive officer
for being tough on workers who had indulged in fraudulent practices.
Tragedy struck a family in Moratuwa when a 30-year-old telecommunication
engineer, Vidura Prasad Pahalavithana of Kadalana, fell to his death
from a packed train at Moratuwa on October 2.
Wijayadasa Pahalavithana, a retired public servant, told The Sunday
Times that his family has been devastated by his son's death. He
said that on that morning his son went to work as usual by train.
He said that the train had been fully packed because of the strike.
Although his son does not travel on the footboard, he had no choice
but to do so on that day. He had lost his grip and fallen on to
the railway track, 200 metres from the next station and had died
on the spot. A post mortem had been held at the Lunawa Hospital.
said that Vidura Prasad was the eldest of his two sons and it was
as if he had lost one of his eyes. He said that the strike not only
disrupted the lives of the public but caused the life of his son
to be taken away as well. He said that as a Buddhist living a simple
life he wished that it would never happen to anyone in the future.
The Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA), revealed to the
media that during the health strike from September 17 to 29, around
33 ambulances and 10 other vehicles had met with accidents and had
suffered damage estimated at Rs. 1.8 million. It pointed out that
health authorities, who had deployed armed forces and SLCTB drivers
should take the responsibility for the losses.
were made from the Health Ministry, an official said that the estimates
had been done at hospital level and then submitted for Ministry
Acts of sabotage and attempted sabotage had been reported from general
and base hospitals around the country, except in the North and East
where in some hospitals, such as the Vavuniya Base Hospital the
staff had been ordered by the LTTE to go back to work.
at the Kandy General Hospital had been damaged while in Kurunegala
the telephone wires had been cut allegedly by strikers.