STRIKES, DEMONSTRATIONS AND YAHAPALANA Part 1
Posted on July 28th, 2017

KAMALIKA  PIERIS

Revised 9.9.19

The first thing that happened once the so-called CIA inspired ‘regime change’ took place and the Yahapalana government came into power was protests, demonstrations, and strikes. The media observed that in September 2015 alone, 24 street protests were held in Colombo. And dozens of others have been held elsewhere. There were 49 demonstrations in the Colombo city In January and February 2017,   by various organizations over various demands.  

Not a day goes by without a major demonstration, said’ Political Watch’ in December 2016.  At times two demonstrations are seen on the same road at the same time. Last week there were university students and Samurdhi Niladhari demonstrating.  In the past several weeks ‘virtually every segment of society has taken to the streets.’ Doctors, labor, Customs, Excise, Internal revenue department, Samurdhi Niladhari, and students.  

However, the Yahapalana government is completely undisturbed by these demonstrations. When the demonstrators reach Presidents House or Parliament, the barriers are drawn up and the police are waiting.  When they try to storm the police barriers, they are repulsed by water and tear gas.  Yahapalana would have been told by its western masters to expect such demonstrations. Yahapalana has therefore decided to name two places in Colombo, where people could gather and protest. Yahapalana will also mark out an area around Parliament for protesters. 

The Yahapalana government faced strike after strike, in its first year of rule. These strikes were provoked by deliberate government action. Labor officers struck because the government did not give the new service minute promised, instead they recruited under the old one. The paramedics staged a protest march demanding their promotions which they claimed were overdue and nine other demands organized by the Trade Union Alliance of Paramedics. The protestors marched from the National Hospital to the Health Ministry.

Sri Lanka Air Traffic Controllers Association had a work to rule campaign about the payment anomalies that had taken place in 2015. The Pulmonary Therapists Association went on strike, asking, inter alia, for several allowances and because of this, heart surgeries were postponed. Postal workers went on strike on June 2016. Since the promised demands were not given, they struck work again from December 19 to 21. The demands related to recruitment, vacancies, promotions,  salary disparities, and allowances.  When postal strikers went to President House,  they found a police barricade.

An all-island strike of Lottery ticket sellers took place in January 2017, over increasing the cost of a lottery ticket from Rs. 20 to Rs 30. Lottery ticket prices went up,  but the commitment to the lottery seller did not. Lottery ticket sellers threatened to withdraw from sales. Minister of Finance, Ravi Karunanayake said they could do so, there are plenty of others waiting to take over. Lottery talks ended in failure. 

However, the strike ended with an assurance from President Sirisena. The earlier price was restored.  TV news on 14.3.17 showed three lottery tickets priced Rs 20,  Rs. 30, and the third with no price. The Lottery price had been increased because the Lottery was an important cash cow for the government.

Disabled army personnel protested in February 2017 because their retirement benefit had been reduced, deductions were between Rs.  3700 and 9500.  Magistrate, Colombo Fort issued an order preventing disabled army personnel from engaging in a protest outside the Presidential Secretariat in a manner that would obstruct pedestrians who use the street. But said the protestors could engage in peaceful protest.  The police armed with batons were seen at the demonstration.

The disabled army personnel also went to the Pensions Department on 23.3.17  asking for the pensions cut to be restored. They tried to storm the Department and there was an ugly scene, shown on TV news, where they engaged in fisticuffs with the police.

Those who had lost their sons in the Eelam War and were affected by the reduction in pension also  demonstrated on 15.3.17. TV cameras showed the demonstrators crying, holding photos of their missing sons.   The demonstrators went to President’s House and  met the usual yellow barricade and rows of police standing behind it. The demonstrators said that if this continued, they would have to look for a  leader ‘who loves the country.’

There were violent and widespread estate demonstrations demanding wage increases. Estate laborers in Ratnapura had broken into the Ratnapura labor office, demanding higher wages and work for 26 days in the month.  One such strike was settled with an increase of pay, but less than what they asked. The strikers said ‘wait till the next election comes’.

Here is a select list of other strikes and demonstrations which are  linked to employee demands.  One of the first to start agitation was the Ceylon Teachers Union. The CTU and other teachers’ unions held a protest on September 2016, demanding solutions to a series of issues faced by the teacher and principals. These included delayed promotions, delayed payments, and the appointment of ‘henchmen’ as school principals. The teacher trade unions supporting the government were silent.

Government Valuers Association held a street protest, objecting to an ‘underhand’ amendment to recruitment. Certain Valuers had held discussions with the Treasury without the knowledge of Chief Valuer and the Association, and a new cadre had been approved amending the earlier cadre, which has been approved by the Association.

Labour Department officers struck work in September 2016 and then planned a countrywide strike and an indefinite Satyagraha in October 2016, because the government had not kept its promise. The government had promised to introduce a new service minute, instead, they have recruited under the old one. The October strikers found that the September strikers will not be paid for the days they were on strike.

In August 2016, The Government  Technical Officers Association threatened to strike work as their demands had not been given.  Over 5000 workers in 159 public sector organizations belonged to this Association and all development work such as road construction, irrigation and also crematoriums will stop, they said.

Federation of University Teachers Associations, FUTA, had planned to stage a token strike on March 2017, saying that they would go for an all-out strike thereafter if the government did not respond to their initial trade union action positively. FUTA demanded the withdrawal of a salary circular issued by the University Grants Commission, which they assert, has erroneously provided for deductions from their salaries.

This was a circular issued to all public service employees, but it has affected university teachers badly as their allowances are higher than their basic salaries. Salary deductions made by the recent circulars brought university lecturers to the same level as other administrative officers,” he said. There were also anomalies as regards vehicle permits, communication allowances, and other privileges as well.

FUTA said that that they had held several rounds of discussions with the University Grants Commission (UGC) as well as Higher Education Ministry to resolve the matter before resorting to trade union action. The Ministry and UGC had accepted that injustice had been caused to university teachers, but they did not take any action to rectify the error.

FUTA suspended their trade action following an assurance from the University Grants Commission to solve their problems. They gave the UGC two weeks to sort out the issues arising out of a circular on their salaries. If the government fails to find an acceptable solution to the problem by March 27, 2017, it will launch a countrywide strike indefinitely.

 The Non-academic staff of universities, numbering around 14,000 had a continuous strike from   August to September 2015.  They wanted an increase in their monthly compensatory allowances. Authorities promised to release a circular increasing the monthly arrears payment to them.  So they had suspended their strike. But nothing happened so they planned a one day strike in February 2017. They won their demands and the strike was called off. 

The Public Service United Nurses Union (PSUNU) launched a 48-hour sick note campaign on March 2017, in protest against the government’s failure to rectify their demands. These included salary anomalies, interim overtime allowance approved by the Treasury with effect from 2015, an annual uniform allowance of Rs. 25,000 and an interim payment of Rs. 5,000 for each nurse and the commencement of the Community Health Service programs.

The PSUNU had, on several occasions, informed the relevant authorities of the difficulties its members were faced with, ‘but in vain’.  The Union said its strike had been successful, but the authorities said that 620 nurses out of 820 rostered for yesterday’s morning shift had reported to duty in Colombo. The situation was the same at the Kurunegala, Kandy, Karapitiya teaching hospitals and the Kegalle, Ratnapura, Matara hospitals where there had been over a 70 percent attendance of the nursing staff,

Veterinary surgeons engaged in trade union action in August 2016. They had been asking for an amendment to the Health Service Act and to that of livestock production. They wanted first-class positions created in the provincial veterinary sector, and all vacant appointments made first-class appointments. There are 300 vacancies for veterinary surgeons but only 175 appointments have been made. Though the Minster promised solutions whenever the union went to him, nothing was ever done. 

A  work–to–rule campaign was launched by the Engineering Diplomates Association (EDA) of the National Water Supply and Drainage Board,  in March 2017. In February they had withdrawn from overtime work, maintenance and weekend maintenance activities since the government had failed to solve the problems created by Circular 6/2006.

Water supply in several areas in the country, including Export Processing Zones, had been disrupted from February. There was low water storage in water reservoirs. They had not attended to maintenance work either.  Meter readers had also joined the work to rule,  which meant that the issuing of water bills would be delayed. The EDA had demonstrated opposite the NWSDB head office at the Golumadama Junction in Ratmalana for the third time on 9.3.2017 and the authorities had had discussions with them thereafter.

Employees of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) launched a token strike by calling in ‘sick’  in March 2017. The CEB union said they had planned trade union action in October 2015, but held back as management promised to attend to their grievances. The National Electricity Workers’ Association (NEWA) had also threatened to go on a 24-hour strike then, this would cause serious power outages in the country. 

The  CEB union complained that the government had increased the salaries of CEB management by 70% to 125% with effect from 1 January 2015 with no corresponding increase to other workers at the CEB.  Employees of the lower level had got only a 30% salary increase in 2015. According to the CEB rules, the salary ratio should be 1:6″. It was now 1:9 following the 2015 salary increase. Although authorities had promised to increase the salaries of lower-level workers so as to keep the gap between the management level staff and lower-level staff salaries at a reasonable level they had so far failed to do so. 

The CEB management had asked for one year to rectify the salary anomalies. The CEB had decided to go for a unified service grade for all employees in the CEB and thus different grades were identified with specific salary scales. The Technical and Financial grades have had their salary scales decided on but others grades are yet to do so.The Engineers grades were approved and when they were submitted to the CEB board, the Board asked that the other grades too be finalized. So a committee was appointed to look into and review all categories and ‘we are expecting their report to be submitted to the Board soon.’

CEB workers had struck work from midnight of April 05 to midnight April 06, 2017, 90% of workers had participated in it despite threats from the management. The government had not heeded their request for a discussion. Instead, the management had denied overtime to them and issued warning letters.

Since the government had ignored the April strike, representatives from 32 CEB trade unions including UNP affiliated Jathika Sewaka Sangamaya and SLFP’s Sri Lanka Nidahas Sewaka Sangamaya decided to again stage an all-out strike, demanding rectification of their salary anomalies. They had given the CEB one and a half years to solve the problem, ‘but in vain.’ Their members were being harassed by the CEB management following their strike and they had no option but to go for an all-out strike to win their demands. They would give the government two weeks to solve their problems.

Insiders, however, said without the participation of its powerful Engineers’ Union it would be very difficult for all other unions to cripple the power supply. Ceylon Electricity Board employees who had not been made permanent in CEB also launched a protest in January 2017.  

Railway Department contemplated a 24-hour token strike on December 2016, because the Yahapalana government had abolished, or was going to abolish, the railway pension scheme,  had engaged in improper recruitments and planned to convert the railway department to an authority. They were also against government handing over railway land to the private sector. President Sirisena intervened and the strike was called off. In January 2017, Railway engine drivers resorted to working to rule since talks had been unsuccessful.  There was also a strike by Railway Crossing Guards Union in January 2017, against irregularities in monthly wage payments.  They said the government had not taken any action.

An all-island private bus 24-hour token strike took place in December 2016.     27 private bus associations were on strike. 20,000 private buses were withdrawn.  Interprovincial long distances private buses, provincial-level private buses, school vans, three-wheelers, lorries, bowsers, and containers participated.  They were striking over the proposed Rs 25,000 fine for traffic offenses.   The money will go into the hands of the traffic police, they said. 

 The government faced the challenge. The SLTB employed its full fleet of 6000 buses canceling all leave. But this was not enough and the navy was called in to drive the buses. The strikers objected and the protest took a violent turn.  SLTB buses were pelted with stones.  20 SLTB buses islandwide were attacked, including Trincomalee to Tangalle and Trincomalee to Colombo buses.

Trishaws had a massive 1000 strong protest at Lotus Road, Colombo.  They complained that now they are not allowed to overtake on either the right or the left. Colombo-Negombo road was blocked by trishaws and buses. Trishaw operators blocked the railway crossing at the Galakanda area in Negombo.  Police fired tear gas to clear them. The train service from Chilaw to Colombo was stopped. The train service to the Puttalam line was also disrupted. Later, Police arrested over 30 persons for disrupting the train service at Negombo. Two UPFA Western Province councilors were also arrested over violation of a court order.

There has never been a road transport stoppage in this country over the matter of a fine, said Chandraprema. Those who run this country must ask whether people can really pay these fines. Rs 25,000 exceeds the fines paid for assault or the possession of heroin. If they impose this, the person may end up permanently in prison due to an inability to pay the fine.  In this context, a traffic fine of Rs 25,000 is nothing short of insanity.   You cannot impose first world fines on the third world. This particular fine is too much even for Australia.

How this government regularly dreams up ever more ingenious ways of making the lives of ordinary people a living hell is truly remarkable and the way they doggedly stick to these harebrained schemes despite mass protests is even more remarkable, concluded Chandraprema.

Federation of Traders Association called a meeting of all traders, island-wide in July 2016, to oppose the new VAT. The VAT will make it impossible for small and medium businessmen to survive and they would have to wind up their operations. Traders of the North and east were prepared to close their shops, on the same day as the Sinhala shops. A businessman said that he been in business for nearly      20 years and had never seen the business community united in their opposition to the government in this manner.    The traders closed their shops for a day on 15.7.2016.

There was a second category of strikes, which took place out of concern for the country. These strikes were related to major national issues. The Ports Protection Union Front (PPUF) planned a demonstration on February 1st  in front of the Presidential Secretariat, with the participation of all progressive forces, other trade unions, and Ports employees, protesting the sale of the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo Port by the Government.

Customs rarely engage in trade union work, they are well placed and well looked after, observed Chandraprema.  However, Customs officers ‘walked out ‘on February 2016, to protest certain new Acts which were in the pipeline. These Acts were intended to control four major government institutions including the Customs. The new Customs Act was for the benefit of racketeers. Customs trade unions vehemently condemned Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s statement that he would implement the new Customs Ordinance at any cost.

Customs officers also said the government was planning to appoint a regulatory body to control high income generating government departments such as Customs, Excise, Valuation and Inland Revenue. They condemned the government for acting in a dictatorial manner. Customs trade unions would complain to the authorities about ‘draft laws which were inimical to the interest of the country’.

 Customs officers said the government had already set up an illegal unit called’ Revenue efficiency and investment unit’ at a cost of Rs 10 million taken out of the state coffers.  They wanted this removed as there were already mechanisms in place for malpractices. 

Thereafter, Customs officers sent sick leave notices for one day in September 2016. They disagreed with the proposed Customs Act.  They want the present Act amended.  Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake had not given them an appointment to discuss the matter, despite three requests.

Government Medical Officers Association has strongly opposed the government on economic issues such as the budget, and the ECTA. They have antagonized the government. GMOA said the government has cut down vehicle permits and did not grant good schools to their children when they received the transfer and or returned from abroad.

There was also a problem with Grade One admission. GMOA said that only     20 out of 138 children had got good schools. When the doctors went to Isurupaya they were made to wait for hours, air condition was switched off and their car tyres deflated.   The TV   news showed the fans come on the minute they left Isurupaya. An order had been obtained Magistrate’s court and they had to leave the premises.

GMOA    embarked on a series of strikes. GMOA started, I think, with its token strike of 30.11.2016  in which they were joined by the Government Dental Surgeons Association and Government Ayurveda Medical Officers Association.  They were striking for many reasons, including Yahapalana’s health policy, removing the facility of a pension for new recruits to the government sector, taxing public servants, exposing job market to foreigners and the budget proposals which the government was not interested in discussing with them.

This strike was successful, but patients were furious.  The government said that they would give the disturbance, availability and transport allowances and will increase the other allowances. GMOA had another strike on 5.5.2017

In April 2017, seven trade unions attached to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) including Petroleum Joint Union Alliance and CPC Sri Lanka Freedom Workers Union threatened to strike over three national issues. The three issues were Yahapalana’s decision to sign a pact with India on the Trincomalee oil tanks, the renovation of the Sapugaskanda oil refinery and abandoning plans for Hambantota oil refinery. They said that their struggle is for the country, not themselves.

The Petroleum Joint Union Alliance said it opposed the proposal to transfer operational rights of oil tanks to India since the agreement would benefit only the Indian companies and will help the Indian Oil company to expand further in the island. The Unions also wanted the government to shelve plans to build a new oil refinery with Chinese assistance at Hambantota and immediately begin repairing the existing refinery near Colombo.

Several Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) trade unions launched an island-wide strike from midnight on 23. April 2017, against an alleged decision by the government to sign an agreement with India regarding the oil tanks in Trincomalee. The cabinet has approved the lease of the entire tank farm to India, they said. If Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe gives in to Indian demands and decides to lease it to them, the unions will take action. The unions called off the strike the next day following an assurance given by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he would not enter into an agreement with India on the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. The other demands they made were, of course, the renovation of the Sapugaskanda oil refinery and bringing Hambantota oil refinery under the CPC.

Then the unions heard on April 28 an MOU is to be signed with India. if any such thing takes place, CPC workers will occupy their workplaces, and if that does not put a stop to the matter, there will be a work stoppage they will for a few days ensuring that there is no disruption of hospitals and air travel. The refinery will also be kept going for a couple of days, but if Prime Minister  Wickremasinghe still gives in to Indian pressure, they will stop work at the refinery and disrupt fuel supplies to aircraft as well.

They went on strike, eventually on 25.7.17. The government promptly declared Petroleum distribution an essential service, sent in the army and squashed the strike. Television news showed the union leaders, about seven of them at least, bundled into vans and taken away by the police and then the cameras showed attackers with poles going at the rest.

This matter is now escalating. There was a rumpus In Parliament.  MPs charged that the Yahapalana government had employed thugs to attack the strikers and the police had looked the other way.  Island editorial of 28.7.17  said Armed to the teeth and in full battle gear, hundreds of soldiers launched their Entebbe-style offensive, with zero resistance from unarmed oil workers, helped bring the CPC facilities under military control in next to no time! The troops were backed by the STF in the task. After the army and the STF had secured the ‘enemy territories’ a group of club-wielding Yahapalana goons swung into action to carry out mopping-up operations around the Kolonnawa oil installation. They can be seen in the photographs we have published. The goons who set upon the CPC workers can be easily identified. none of the goons who assaulted the CPC workers had been arrested”.

Political parties and civil organizations opposed to the handover of the Hambantota and Trincomalee oil tank farms to China and India respectively are organizing a series of demonstrations. A mass demonstration organized by the JVP will be held in Ambalantota on 28.8.17.  Trade unions are also getting worked up. The Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU), Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union (FTZGSU) and several other associations are currently discussing what action they should take.. CTU condemned the goon attacks on the CPC workers. It remains to be seen whether a general strike will develop from the Petroleum strike of July 2017.

The port and petroleum unions are determined to pursue the Hambantota matter. Petroleum trade unions remain confident. They say that after discussion with the President,  they have suspended their strike till August 1  These two sets of unions have given the government one week to reverse its decision to lease out the Hambantota Port to a Chinese company with the petroleum oil tanks.

The one-day token strike by All Ceylon General Ports Employees Union (ACGPEU) scheduled to be held on the 28.7.17 had been postponed till August 1 to allow the government more time to reconsider the matter. The   Union said that Hambantota Port could have generated a higher revenue if it had commenced bunkering operations in partnership with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

The Union noted that even though the revised agreement had increased Sri Lanka’s share to 30 percent from 20 percent, it was not acceptable as the two companies in which Sri Lanka was given the majority shares would basically provide services to the port and be without control over the main operations of the port. If a foreign company got hold of the Hambantota, it would, with superior technology and ability to invest, make huge profits and deprive the Colombo Port of its income.

It is now very clear, observed Chandraprema that the country is moving towards a massive general strike. Chandraprema looked back at the GMOA strike of May 2017. This strike, which was mainly anti-SAITM token strike, kicked off with unions from the transport, energy, and education sectors joining in. This was just a trial run, said the unions, to show the government what to expect. Some unions did not actually go on strike but held demonstrations during lunchtime to express solidarity with the strikers.  

The strike was entirely on policy matters without any inclusion of wage or working conditions issues. This is a new development that has to be taken note of by the government, continued Chandraprema. The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation strike some days ago was on the three demands of shelving the plan to lease the Trincomalee oil tank farm to India, the modernization of the Sapugaskanda oil refinery and the handing over of the Hambantota port bunkering facility to the CPC.  GMOA strike was based on the three demands of nationalizing the medical course at SAITM, shelving the proposed ETCA with India and halting the privatization or ‘foreignization’ of state-owned assets.

The strike was successful in the medical sector, with mixed results in the education and transport sectors. That there was major disruption in the education and transport sectors, especially the railways, was undeniable. What was most significant was the wide range of sectors that expressed support for the anti-SAITM strike. Port workers, CEB unions and postal workers staged demonstrations in support of the strike concluded Chandraprema. 

Yahapalana has not hesitated to repress the strikes and demonstrations.  Soon after the anti-VAT hartal in August 2016  shops of three traders in Pettah who had taken part in the anti Vat Hartal were sealed by the customs. ‘Asian trader’, ‘Anglo shirt’ and ‘Romax ‘of Keyzer Street, these were small establishments.

Prasad textiles’ in Piliyandala, belonging to the President of the Federation of Traders associations, ‘India Dress Point’ in Anuradhapura, belonging to the Secretary of the Federation of Traders Association and ‘Hemara Rich look’ in Galle had been sealed. ‘Colombo shirts’ in Pettah also sealed. Yahapalana was using intimidation to stifle dissent ahead of reintroducing the  Vat Bill.

Yahapalana did not care that the Anuradhapura owner was the principal financier of Maithripala Sirisena in Anuradhapura. ‘Prasad’ and ‘Hemara’ owners had also played a leading role in financing the UNP campaign in their areas.   ‘These traders said they would complain to the Human Rights Commission, and present Fundamental rights petitions in the Supreme court against the repression launched by the government and also inform the public and the international community about ‘this harassment’. 

The Cinnamon Gardens police informed the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court on March 2017  that they intended to file charges against National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader and Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa and six other party activists for allegedly providing leadership to a protest which blocked the main roads at Bauddhaloka Mawatha, causing disturbance to the people and the normal flow of traffic.

On February 6, 2016, the NFF staged a protest march against the visit of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Police informed Court that the suspects who organized the procession had failed to obtain the prior permission from the police to organize the march. They further alleged that the organizers had also used loudspeakers without a valid license.

Five civil activists, including Gunadasa Amarasekera who had supported the disabled soldier strike, were noticed to appear in court for allegedly organizing a protest in Colombo Fort, causing disturbance to public peace and disrupting traffic.

Yahapalana has used force to break up strikes and demonstrations. In February 2017, the police used force to disperse JVP led port workers’ demonstration, which demanded that the Yahapalana government abandon plans to privatize Colombo, Trincomalee and Hambantota harbors.  They refused to call of the protest and the police fired tear gas. A member of the police anti-riot squad was shown grappling with a Buddhist monk at the Lotus Junction, Colombo before using tear gas and water cannon to disperse a protest march organized by the Inter-University Bhikkus Federation (IUBF) in April 2017. The Federation was demanding an immediate increase of the university intake this year.

University students, doctors, and SAITM parents had conducted several agitations regarding the private medical college, South Asian Institute Technology and Medicine, at Malabe Government used tear gas and water cannon on both the parents and the students to disperse them in March 2017. The police said that several main roads including the Galle Road, Kollupitiya Junction, Lotus Roundabout, Ceramic Junction, Olcott Mawatha, Lake House Roundabout, Lipton Circus, Parliament Roundabout had to be closed owing to protests.   Strong water cannon was used to crush the student protest at Lipton Circus on 23.7.17. This was shown very clearly on TV news.

Patali Champika Ranawaka warned that there should be a limit to public protest and anti-democratic detonations.  The government will not tolerate an attempt to wreak havoc, he said. Tissa Vitarana said the LSSP rejected his statement. People have the right to protest and express their objection to issues. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda,  also said that the government was planning to suppress people’s right to express dissent. Severe action would be taken by all trade unions against the government’s plan to limit public protests in the city, he declared. The government has begun its dictatorial journey. It is crushing trade union action and students struggle continuously, said Ryp van Winkle. 

Appendix.

The Department of Posts and Telecommunications faced several strikes in 2018. There was an indefinite strike launched on May 11. 2018 by 24 Postal Trade Unions consisting of more than 26,000 employees. This ‘caused Chaos Island wide’. The strike was called off when the government promised to look into their grievances.

The government did not do so. The postal trade unions thereafter started a 16-day strike action from 11th June 2018. 21,000 postal workers affiliated to 30 trade unions struck work.  3,410 Sub Post Offices and 653 Post Offices remain closed. Mail trains stopped operating.

The unions wanted the Postal Service converted to a ‘Closed Service”.  They wanted a suitable new recruitment policy and job security for acting postmasters. The government was planning to recruit outsiders as postmasters when there were acting postmasters who had served the department for 7-10 years.” There were salary issues and the unions wanted the officer who had ‘brought about these issues,” removed.

3,000 of the striking postal workers assembled opposite the Fort Railway station, obstructing traffic, before marching towards the Presidential Secretariat. The police halted the march using barricades and allowed some trade union leaders to enter the Presidential Secretariat for the scheduled talks. The government said that the leave of postal workers had been canceled and those who did not report for duty would be deemed to have vacated post.

When the strike went into the 2nd week, the Government took countermeasures. Motorists were directed to pay traffic fines at District or Divisional Secretariats. Court documents, mainly summons, with regard to civil cases, usually sent via registered post, would be sent through a fiscal, or Grama Niladhari. The Examinations Department told candidates sitting State exams, to go for the exams, even if they have not received their Admission forms.

In January 2018 Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) employees had a sit-in strike in the headquarters building.  they took the Chairman hostage. The police went in with batons to rescue the CEO and chase the strikers out. There was strong resistance and the operation took 5 hours. it was chaos with employees screaming Television news showed the event. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDXTvbPtzJk)

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said doctors of the western province would stop the private practice on 29.11.16 against the budget proposal to tax government employees in private practice. The previous day they staged a lunch hour protest demanding that the government solve several issues relating to them, arising from the Budget 2017. 

GMOA threatened to strike on July 2018. Citing a series of demands the government had failed to meet. The chief demand of theirs, an increase in the Disturbance, Availability, and Transport (DAT) allowance had been delayed for over a month now. The DAT allowance is calculated based on a formula and is increased from time to time. Both the Salaries and Cadres Commission and the Health Ministry recommended an increase but the Treasury had not yet made an official announcement,” 

The Joint Council of Health Professionals (JCHP) issued a warning on 16.11.17 that trade unions in the health sector would resort to a token strike to pressure the government to rectify salary anomalies caused by a new salary structure introduced to the Railway Department. Sixteen health sector trade unions including Government Registered and Assistant Medical Officers (SRAMO), Government Nursing Officers Association (GNOA), ProfessionsSupplementary to medicines (PSM) and Paramedic trade unions would join the strike. “We are not against salaries being increased for railway workers, but the government should also increase the salaries of the health services employees. Approximately 50,000 health sector employees would strike, affecting OPD services, clinics, ward services, and laboratory testing services in government hospitals.

The media reported that Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration Officers’ Association (SLIEOA) announced that it will commence a work-to-rule campaign from midnight of May 18, 2018, at all port and airports of the country, until their grievances are addressed. The SLIEOA says it has been urging the government to address several long-standing concerns, including the introduction of a service minute, attaching Immigration officers to foreign missions and re-establishment of the Departmental Prosecution Unit. The Airport & Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited had promised them an Rs 10,000 increase in 2015 but this increase has not been paid for the last three years, they complained.

“We don’t want to tarnish the image of the country by giving a negative impression to foreigners. That is why we delayed trade union action for so long. We waited till March to distribute leaflets to raise public awareness of our grievances. We will hold a silent banner protest opposite the BIA, the union said.” 

During the strike, Airport Sri Lanka Freedom Party Union (ASFPU) members had blocked all three entrances to the Airport using backhoes and other vehicles. The Police, Special Task Force (STF) and anti-riot squads had been called in. The aviation sector, however, was operational and security and air traffic controllers continued to function during the strike. the strike was called off when authorities agreed to t pay the allowances.

There was a spate of railway strikes, in 2017, 2018, and 2019. These were given much publicity in the press and television. The public was furious over these strikes and said so when interviewed on television.

 railway unions decided in November 2017 to launch a strike at midnight demanding the rectification of salary anomalies. Railway Trade Union Alliance said the government had failed to place them on suitable salary scales and had been dragging its feet on rectifying anomalies. The strike will be joined by the drivers, guards and station masters.

There was a train strike again on 7 December 2017. There was an indefinite strike of engine drivers, guards and workers, and several other categories, in August 2018. Television news showed the staff using the time to clean the stations and repair the rail tracks.

Railway unions launched a two-day strike on June 2019. ” they will conduct a strike each Friday if the government does not address their grievances the Locomotive Engineering Operators’ Union said.”If the government does not solve the issues we face, we will strike from 27 midnight to 28 midnight in June. All railway unions will take part.

they launched an indefinite strike at midnight on 3rd July against Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry Secretary’s refusal to interdict a trade union leader Bandara on recommendations made by the General Manager Railways. .GMR had recommended disciplinary action against the trade union leader who had been allegedly found drunk while on duty.  The GMR had handed in his resignation, saying that he couldn’t serve unless the errant worker was appropriately dealt with.

Around 15,000 non-academic staff members from 15 state universities launched an indefinite strike on February 28. 2018. 15 universities including the Open University of Sri Lanka were affected and all examinations and academic calendar had to be postponed.

“We suspended our strike which commences on August 27, 2016, following the government’s promise to increase payments from January 2017,” this was not forthcoming, and they struck work in February 2017. the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) promised to grant their demands after talks with the Finance Ministry, but that promise was not honored though one year had elapsed. . we will not tolerate step-motherly treatment anymore. we were cheated by the government repeatedly for the last 10 years. Universities cannot run without us, said the union. “

The demands include salary increments, implementing the agreements reached in 2016 to grant them allowances,    amending the recruitment policy in practice since 2006 and the resumption of payment of the language proficiency allowance, suspended from 2011.

As the strike dragged on, into April, the strikers threatened to withdraw from the voluntary services they were carrying out. University Trade Union Joint Committee said that despite the strike, their members had provided voluntary services for certain facilities. They had continued to look after the animals in agriculture faculties and zoological research facilities, maintain services at the chemistry laboratories in medical and science faculties provide water and electricity for universities and hostels and other daily mandatory services. “If our members withdraw from such essential services, the university authorities will have to bear an enormous cost to maintain them.

Members of the University Executive Officers’ Association decided to withdraw from extra duties in solidarity with nonacademic staff. They had written to Minister of Higher Education and the Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) requesting them to address the grievances of nonacademic staff members.

The employees of the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB engaged in strike action from February 2, 2018. the strike was called off after officials from the Board agreed to their demands for a salary increase of 25%.  What they have asked for is not unfair. They are usually given a salary increment of 25% to 30% once in three years,” the General Manager said. We have accepted their demands and are willing to give them a 25% salary increase,”

The administrative officers in the service sector are planning to strike reported the media in July 2018. All-Island Service Executive Officers Joint Committee said the union would strike if it does not obtain a formal response from the government regarding their complaints. They were unhappy over the government’s decision to raise only the salary of workers in the legal profession. A total of 20,000 members of this union reported sick on July 11 as part of union action, and a number of them staged a demonstration outside the Presidential secretariat before handing over a letter for the President’s Secretary.

There were other strikes too. Ceylon Petroleum Corporation was on long term strike starting on 25.7.17. Accountants,  nurses, container drivers and tipper drivers engaged in strikes. Minor health employees of Wellawaya base hospital struck work as they were not paid OT, deprived them of their leave and various other demands.  Disabled military personnel and family member staged a protest at Lotus rod demanding that they are paid their dues.

Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told Parliament that a pressing need had arisen to name a particular place for the protest to be held. The Minister said that a new trend of people of various walks of life holding demonstrations and protests had been noticed in the recent past. Those protests and demonstrations placed other people in great difficulty, the minister said, adding that protests had become one of the main reasons for traffic congestions. The government should designate a place for protests. That place should be accessible to media, too, he said, but added that if the media stopped showing protests on TV for four consecutive days then the protesters would stop taking to the streets.

The government did not hesitate to take repressive action. Police arrested over 30 persons for disrupting the train service at Negombo during the transport strike of December, 2016. Labor department officers found that the earlier strikers will not be paid for the days they were on strike. When postal strikers went to President House, a police barricade was put up, Police used water cannot and tear gas to disperse protesting unemployed graduates as they tried to approach the Presidents House. (to be continued)

8 Responses to “STRIKES, DEMONSTRATIONS AND YAHAPALANA Part 1”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Tomorrow will be YET ANOTHER B:LAG FLAG DAY in Sri Lanka, when the Hambantota POrt will be signed over to China for 99-Years!

    How shall we stem the TEARS of Mother Lanka?

    Should the HANDS RAISED in AGREEMENT with this TREASONOUS ACT MOST FOUL, and those that will SIGN that TREACHEROUS AGREEMENT TOMORROW be SPARED the VENGEANCE of Sri Lankan PATRIOTS?

    I think NOT! We will NEVER FORGET this DAY of INFAMY in our history!

    SOW the WIND TODAY; REAP the WHIRLWIND TOMORROW!

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Written in response to CURRENT VIOLENT SUPPRESSION of STRIKES & CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE by the YAMAPALANAYA:

    The Yamapalana Government is hellbent on alienating National Assets to cover up its PROFLIGATE waste and robbery of PUBLIC FUNDS and INABILITY to recognize the VALUE nd FISCAL SOUNDNESS of the programs implemented by the previpus MR/UPFA GOSL.

    The Yamapalanaya is driven to ACT IRRATIONALLY against the Nation because they had INCORRECTLY characterized these programs as unproductive and corrupt, but are now UNABLE to continue them having ALIENATED the foreign lenders, and are UNWILLING to acknowledge to the PUBLIC that they were VERY WRONG and DEVIOUS, and had misled the public to ENGINEER a REGIME CHANGE.

    Even the Rs 10,000 per month pay hike they gave to ALL public servants has come back to HAUNT THEM by COMPOUNDING the FISCAL MESS they DUG for THEMSELVES through SHEER INCOMPETENCE, BUNGLING and OUTRIGHT THEFT on a GRAND SCALE hitherto not seen in Sri Lanka.

    More than the DESHA-DROHI PAL-HORA Yamapalanaya, the citizens of our country have an INALIENABLE RIGHT to protect National Assets that we depend on for our future survival as a Nation.

    The CITIZENS NEVER ELECTED this government to SELL our National Assets, HALT our infrastructire development programs, and to DIVIDE and SUBJUGATE our unitary sovereign Motherland to its enemies, or to undertake a WITCH-HUNT of our war heroes who liberated and reunified our nation.

    So, these PATRIOTIC CITIZENS are NOW taking URGENT steps to PROTECT & SECURE those National Assets through STRIKES and CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.

    Given that the Yamapalanaya has REFUSED TO HOLD and DELAYED the Local Government Elections, the PEOPLE HAVE NO OTHER DEMOCRATIC WAY to change the DIRECTION of this government. The ALTERNATIVE to STRIKES is to RESORT TO ARMED VIOLENCE on a MASSIVE SCALE.

    The Yamapalana Leaders are VERY MUCH MISTAKEN if they think they can misuse their ELECTION VICTORY on Jan 8, 2015 to IMPLEMENT RADICAL ANTI-NATIONAL political and economic changes in the country, while NOT HOLDING the SCHEDULED ELECTIONS through which the people can express their SUPPORT FOR or OPPOSITION TO the steps contemplated by the government.

    IT is CRYSTAL CLEAR that the VAST MAJORITY OF CITIZENS of Sri Lanka NOW VEHEMENTLY OPPOSE the Yamapalana Government and their ANTI-NATIONAL MOVES.

    In the ABSENCE of ELECTIONS, the CITIZENS will be COMPELLED TO RESORT TO VIOLENCE to PREVENT the Yamapalanaya from DESTROYING their Motherland.

    The BLIND, DEAF & DUMB leaders of the Yamapalanaya should take note of the SEETHING ANGER of the PUBLIC against them, and the MOUNTING DISCONTENT among the vast majority of CITIZENS.

    TheLIVES of Yamapalana Leaders may depend upon ACTING IMMEDIATELY to CEASE & DESIST from these ANTI-NATIONAL MOVES. If they CONTINUE to use the kinds of STRONG ARM TACTICS we are INCREASINGLY SEEING NOW to continue their DICTATORIAL GOVERNANCE, they are DOOMED to FAILURE!

    NO AMOUNT of GOVERNMENTAL FORCE, relying on minority community and foreign support, will allow them to CONTROL & SUPPRESS the Majority of the PUBLIC for too long, and when the TSUNAMI HITS it will SWEEP ALL BEFORE IT!

    After all, when PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, the ARMED FORCES and the POLICE will support their OWN PEOPLE in the Majority Community, and not the PUPPETS BRIBED to ISSUE ORDERS to ACT AGAINST the Majority of Citizens of their Motherland!

    The Yamapalanaya is SOWING the WIND, they will REAP the WHIRLWIND!

  3. Cerberus Says:

    The actions of this Yahapalanaya මූසල කාලකන්නිs will as Ananada says reap the whirl wind. As the Buddha says every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The Karmic repercussions will reverberate for generations to come. Even the Bible says that the sins of the fathers will be visited unto the sons even unto the third and fourth generation. Even though they are living their Hearts and souls are dead. How did a man who has done so much against the country like Ranil end up as the PM? After the Batalanda and the various other things he did with the LTTE would have been enough to finish his political career with the Sinhala people. Our people deserve a great President like Mahinda Rajapaksa who is decent and loves the people and the country.

    These fellows have signed the sale of Hambantota port without Parliamentary approval. Same as at the OMP office which was created to prosecute our War Heroes. The money from the sale amounting to US$1.12 Billion has apparently been deposited in the Treasury safely in charge of Paskaralingam and Indrajith Coomaraswamy! One can guess what will be done with the money. You guess is as good as mine. You can be sure the first priority will be to import luxury vehicles for our uneducated louts in the Parliament and also the Cabinet members. The money which was promised to Salawa victims, the victims of the earth slips, floods, droughts the people suffering from CKDU will be forgotten. Now they will quietly forget the bond scam too. The Yahapalanaya is now getting ready to imprison Shirani Rajapaksa, Namal, Wimal, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Even the Provincial Elections are now being postponed. As President Mahinda Rajapaksa as stated they are moving toward a fascist state. May the Triple Gem Protect and keep Sri Lanka safe from these hyenas. Heaven help Sri Lanka!

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Cerburus,

    Yes! The proceeds of the Handover of Hambantota Port will be STOLEN just like the other funds in the National Treasury were.

    I MOURN the LOSS of the VAST INCOME we could have EARNED from the Hambantota Port to DEVELOP and TRANSFORM Sri Lanka into the NEW WONDER of Asia!

    ALL of the DEBTS of Sri Lanka could have been PAID-OFF with 5-years of INCOME from Hambantota Port Services to ships plying the Maritime Silk Route of China.

    Instead, we GAVE THAT OPPORTUNITY …. a ONCE IN A Nation’s LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY …. AWAY to China for $1,12 Billion … a PITTANCE compared to the 100’s of Billions of USD that we could have EARNED from it!

    We send our poor women as HOUSEMAIDS to the Persian Gulf to be humiliated, exploited and raped! We could have givenm them a VIBRANT Motherland to live in and develop with the Hambantota Port funds.

    If I were President, I would order the YAMAPALANAYA TRAITORS who did this to be HOISTED onto POINTED STAKES and left there to DANGLE in PERPETUITY as a lesson to ALL would-be TRAITORS!

    I WEEP UNCONSOLABLY for my Motherland, for WE OURSELVES are OUR WORST ENEMIES, aiding and abetting our ENEMIES to DISMEMBER Mother Lanka!

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    Sale of Hambantota Port – A fair deal.? අපේ හම්බන්තොට වරායත් අද චීනෙට වික්කා පුතේ

    https://youtu.be/R6liq_rrRgg

  6. Cerberus Says:

    Ananda my brother. Do not weep for these acts of traitors. As the Buddha said the wheel of Dhamma turns and as sure as day follows night the Sat Yuga will dawn and the truth will shine forth. Our lives are just a moment of time and what matters is what we do and the decisions we take. If we back truth always we can die in peace when the time comes. Momentary pleasures the traitors gain by deceit will vanish as the mist does when the sun arises. Always truth wins even if takes a long, long time.

  7. Ananda-USA Says:

    MORE SKULDUGGERY by the Yamapalanya:

    At a meeting today (the Video is on Youtube), the NFF made the following Revelation about a DISCREPANCY in the Hambantota Port Lease:

    The Hambantota Port Services (HPS) Ltd company (valued at 606 million USD)

    1. will be owned in the ratio of 50.3 : 49.7 in favor of SL owning the MAJORITY of shares according to the Bill presented to the Cabinet, BUT

    2. it will be owned in the ratio of 42.0 : 58.0 in favor of the Chinese company owning the MAJORITY of shares according to the AGREEMENT that was signed yesterday.

    In addition, the Hambantota Port Group (HPG) Ltd company (valued at 794 million USD)will ber owned in the ratio of 15.0 : 85.0 in favor of the Chinese company owning the MAJORITY of shares according to BOTH the ocuments approved by the Cabinet AND the AGREEMENT signed yesterday.

    Therefore, the Chinese company will own 58% of HPS Ltd and 85% of HPG Ltd, a MAJORITY share in BOTH companies.

    This reduction in Sri Lanka’s ownership of 8.7% in HPS Ltd from 50.7% to 42.0% represents a sum of 57.3 million USD!

    Who AUTHORIZED this DISCREPANCY at Sri Lanka’s EXPENSE?

    Who will PROFIT from this? Are these BRIBES GIVEN to YAMAPALANA Ministers?

    Is this why, the Speaker of the House SHUTDOWN the DEBATE on this Bill in Parliament, called the VOTE to Approve the Lease against VOCIFEROUS OPPOSITION, and FLED the HOUSE in an unseeming hurry, suspending Parliament and PREVENTING FURTHER DISCUSSION until August 4, 2017??

    WE NEED the Hambantota Port LEASE AGREEMENT to be IMMEDIATELY REVOKED & an INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED into POSSIBLE CRIMINALITY in this MATTER!

    Is the PANA-NATHI JANA-PATHI listening, or is he ASLEEP at the HELM as USUAL?

  8. Cerberus Says:

    Ananda, The information you have provided is very important. Can you please send it to either Island or Lankaweb as a full article?Thank you.

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