STRIKES, DEMONSTRATIONS AND YAHAPALANA Part 2.
Posted on October 14th, 2019

KAMALIKA  PIERIS

By 2016, Yahapalana had accepted the fact that it was going to face strike after strike till the end of its period of rule. A set of bright yellow police barricades were placed in permanent readiness on the pavement near the Kollupitiya junction.

 The police had ordered 5,000 tear gas canisters and 2,000 high tech protective helmets in August 2018, for policemen deployed to disperse protests. They spoke about it too.”There is a rumour about a shortage of tear gas and that we might be compelled to use rubber bullets to disperse protestors,” a senior police officer said, “that is false. We have sufficient stocks of tear gas and we have also ordered 5,000 more gas canisters, he said.

The police said that they had ordered 2,000 high tech protective helmets for policemen who will be deployed to disperse protests. According to him, police would also import 2,000 rubber batons to replace the wooden ones currently being used.

The media periodically reviewed the ‘strike situation’ and made comments. A string of strikes affected the public sector this week, with some of them still continuing while several others mulling over trade union action and protest campaigns said the media  In May 2019. The key demand of many of the striking unions centers on salary anomalies.

The media then listed the various strikes. All Island Health Services Union representing attendants, drivers, and minor staff would launch a strike. The union demanded the implementation of the existing circular and the immediate payment of arrears.

Unions representing state sector principals and teachers are also threatening to launch a strike at the end of this month. Ceylon Teacher Services Union General Secretary said that 30 unions had agreed to join the strike and launch a protest in Colombo if their demands were not met. Their main grievance is also about salary anomalies. They also demand that the Government reduced the workload on teachers and principals, that the government allocate at least 6 percent of the GDP to education, initiate pension schemes for Pirivena and semi-government school teachers. 

All Island Service Executive Officers’ Joint Committee is also considering trade union action over salary anomalies. The members of this union included architects, engineers, and draftsmen. Also joining the stream of protesters are disabled soldiers. They are continuing their Satyagraha campaign outside the fort railway station, calling on the state to pay them salaries even after their retirement. They said they would not call off their Satyagraha campaign until the government addresses their grievances, concluded the media.

There was a similar review in September, 2019.it was observed that Yahapalana is ending its term of office with a bang with multiple strikes, just prior to the announcement of Presidential election.  Unions were active towards election season, because that was mostly, the only time that politicians actually listen to us,”  trade unions said.

A wave of strikes continued to cause chaos throughout the country while Government and Trade Unions were trading accusations, said the media. All TU actions took place to force the government to take steps to rectify salary anomalies affecting their respective services. Demands related to salary anomalies have become the foremost issue for striking Unions. The strikes left a number of sectors paralyzed.

With more TUs gearing up for strikes of their own, the coming weeks are shaping up to be difficult ones for the public at large, said the media. Train commuters were left in the lurch on a  Friday due to a signal failure between Colombo Fort and Maradana.

Doctors, university staff, Dehiwela zoo staff,  All Island Transport      Services,  wanted salary increases. Mahaweli  Engineers Union, for the first time, sent sick notes and demonstrated outside the Mahaweli authority, on the matter of allowances. Disabled soldiers asking for a lifetime salary as the new leg says only severely disabled will get this.

There were islandwide strikes by employees of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB). Employees of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service Association (SLASA) and Sri Lanka Railways conducted limited work and work-to-rule campaigns while warning they would resort to strike action in the coming days. State universities and higher education institutes continued to be paralyzed, by an indefinite strike launched by non-academic staff members. Teachers’ and principals’ unions are also due to launch a 2-day ‘Sick-Note’ campaign on September 26 and 27 said the media.

This rash of strikes came to an abrupt end by the first week of October. They did so because of the government-held out promises. Two major state sector trade unions, the Ceylon Teachers Services Union and the Sri Lanka Administrative Service Association (SLASA) have decided to call off their strike temporarily from today, said the media on 30 September 2019. Government authorities have promised to look into their salary anomalies and promotions. However, the main reason the strikes ended was the anticipation of regime change through the forthcoming Presidential election.

DEMONSTRATIONS.

 Angry demonstrations have been taking place ever since   Yahapalana took power. On 5.3.19 Derana television news showed the following demonstrations:

 1. National Association of Grama Niladharis held a big demonstration near Parliament complex. They blocked the Parliament complex and police had to close the road and put up barriers. The demonstrators confronted the MPs as they went past and hooted them on their way.

2. Demonstration at Fort railway station on behalf of the Ranaviru who had been taken into prison seven was under a death sentence. Demonstrators held photographs and appealed for their release. The camera showed wives and children crying.

3. There was a strong demonstration in Kandy. Kandy road was blocked by demonstrators at Deiyannawela. They were against the one-way rule imposed on the road. They hooted the Governor as he passed.

4.  33 groups comprising the Polonnaruwa United Farmer Association blocked Polonnaruwa Batticaloa’s main road at Welikande. They also blocked the railway line by lying on it and the train had to stop. The train was held up for some time.

This essay concludes with a select list of strikes that took place until the end of September 2019.

STRIKES November /December 2016  

Doctors were contemplating trade union action in November  2016  since their children were still not given good schools when transfers were made.   This matter should have been solved internally not made public they said. Tires in their cars had been deflated at the Ministry. Doctors at Kandy, Kurunegala, and Matara had suspended work for four hours as a protest. Teachers had also been deprived of the long-standing policy of allowing them to secure admission to schools in the areas they served, doctors added.

Western Province doctors had staged a lunch hour protest on 28th November, demanding that the government solve several issues of the Budget 2017. Three associations, GMOA, Government Dental Surgeons Association, and Government Ayurveda Medical Officers Association went on a token strike on 30.11.16.  In Uva and North Western Province they stopped their channel practice as well.

They were striking for many reasons. They wanted their disturbance, availability and transport allowance as well as other allowances to be increased. They did not want their private practice (PP) subject to tax. They were also striking over the budget proposals, which they said the government was not interested in discussing with them. They also objected to abolishing pensions scheme for new recruits to the government sector, taxing public servants,  exposing job market to foreigners and the current health policy.  They objected to the Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) donation to the  Health Ministry and wanted the tax on CTC to increase.

The government said at a discussion thereafter that they would give the disturbance, availability and transport allowance. Other allowances will be increased. They will abandon the CTC donation and increase the tax on CTC.  Doctors PP will not be subject to tax.

STRIKES November  2017

The Joint Council of Health Professionals (JCHP)  consisting of 16 health sector trade unions, which included the Government Registered and Assistant Medical Officers (SRAMO), Government Nursing Officers Association (GNOA), Professions Supplementary to Medicine (PSM) and Paramedic trade unions warned that that trade unions in the health sector would resort to a token strike to pressure the government to rectify salary anomalies caused by the new salary structure introduced to the Railway Department. “We are not against salaries being increased for railway workers, but the government should increase the salaries of the health services employees accordingly to prevent anomalies, they said. Approximately 50,000 health sector employees would strike, affecting OPD services, clinics, ward services, and laboratory testing services in government hospitals.

STRIKES  July 2018

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) threatened to strike In 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,”  they said. 

The GMOA shares the view of the Executive Service Officers’ Union that the increase in salaries of judicial employees through cabinet papers is unfair.  Unlike the judges, judicial employees come under the National Wage policy. It is a violation of the National Wage Policy”. GMOA also insists that a National Allowance Policy” be set up, similar to the wage policy.

Health Minister and Cabinet Spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne said the government has provided doctors with sufficient increases, including the requested DAT allowance, and there was no need to protest.The Treasury approved the increase in the DAT allowance but the money hasn’t still been paid,” Minister Senaratne said. The Justice Department was a closed department”. A comparison of the salaries was stupid. We will soon be making the Health and Education departments ‘closed’ as well.

STRIKES March 2019

Government Technical Officers (Civil/Electrical/Mechanical) Association told the media, in March 2019  that prior to resorting to trade union action it would stage a countrywide peaceful demonstration demanding that the government meet their justifiable demands. However, there was a limit to their patience.  The government technical officers were overworked as vacancies were not filled. This has resulted in a single technical officer having to oversee 25 to 30 projects. Hiring pensioners was not a solution to the problem. The Association wanted the salary anomalies of the technical officers rectified and a service minute introduced. The first of the series of peaceful demonstrations would be held in Kandy shortly.

STRIKES July 2019

Railway unions launched an indefinite strike at midnight against Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry Secretary L.G. Jayampathy’s refusal to interdict trade union leader Chandrasena Bandara on recommendations made by the General Manager Railways.GMR Fernando had recommended disciplinary action against Bandara, who had been allegedly found drunk while on duty. Subsequently, Fernando handed over his letter of resignation to Jayampathy, saying that he couldn’t serve unless the errant worker was appropriately dealt with. Railway unions yesterday called off their strike when Transport Minister Arjuna Ranatunga had agreed to take disciplinary action against an errant UNP trade union leader and also reinstate General Manager Railways Dilantha, Fernando.

STRIKES September 2019  (1)

Railway employees engaged in a work to rule, warning that they would strike if their demands were not met. Thereafter Railway unions launched a strike demanding that the authorities rectify salary anomalies in the railway service. Salaries of the public sector have been  increased, but the anomalies in the railway have not yet been resolved. We have earlier appealed to the authorities to do so, but our grievances were not addressed, they said.

Authorities had failed to implement a Cabinet Paper approved in May 2018 that rectified their salary anomaly issue. We have given the Government plenty of time to act. There is no reason for them to delay implementing an approved Cabinet Paper. We will continue our strike until the Government agrees to implement it.

The strike of Trade unions representing Railway employees including Railway Engine drivers, guards and station masters caused severe inconvenience to commuters. Tens of thousands of railway commuters, mainly office workers were left stranded due to lack of trains. Some had simply stayed home.  A handful of office trains were operating. Only 6 office trains operated on the  Thursday 19th, though that number doubled to 12 on Friday 20th.

  Images of commuters hanging on precariously, to parts of the trains and even traveling on carriage roofs, quickly went viral on social media.  There were heated arguments between commuters and railway staff at several train stations, including the Fort Railway Station, as commuters were faced with closed ticket counters. However, unions announced on the 2ist that they were suspending the work-to-rule action as discussions aimed at resolving their issues had commenced with authorities.

STRIKES September 2019  (2)

Trade Unions representing teachers and principals engaged in a 2-day ‘Sick Note’ campaign on  26 and 27 September, effectively shutting down most Government schools on the island. Activities at many schools islandwide were hampered by this sudden trade union action. Student and teacher turnout was low in many government schools countrywide. Many parents had not sent their children to school. The teachers had made five demands. The rectification of their salary anomalies. Allocate 6% of the GDP to education, stop promoting teachers illegally under the guise of political revenge and provide teachers in Pirivena and semi-government schools with a government pension.

STRIKES September 2019  (3)

Senior members of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service Association (SLASA) numbering nearly 2400  had a 2-day ‘Sick-Note’ campaign that severely hampered work at key Government institutions such as the Department of Registration of Persons, Department of Immigration & Emigration and the Department of Motor Traffic. SLAS officers have decided to take two days sick leave and have advised the general public not to seek services at ministries and other departments as they would be greatly inconvenienced, they said. As part of their limited work action this week, the officers attended only to the duties entrusted to them under their appointment letters. Accordingly, officials were not present at functions attended by people’s representatives, did not sit on Interview Boards or take part in special development projects of the Government.

They were staying away owing to trade union action over unresolved salary anomalies and unwarranted political interference. The SLASA is protesting over a salary anomaly created by the increase in wages given to officers of the Attorney General’s Department in 2018. Minister of Public Administration presented a Cabinet Paper this week, recommending an Interim Allowance (IA) be paid to employees of 17 Government Services until a permanent solution could be found for the issue. Cabinet did not approve the proposal as Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera wanted a week to give his observations on it. The Minister has already given his observations about this issue on 3 other occasions, hence, we fail to see why he needs another week, said the Association.

The Association said that there were serious discrepancies where interns were paid better than directors and members of the board of management, Furthermore due to political pressures, retired pensioned SLAS officers were being recruited to the service when there were ample professionals who were awaiting promotions.

Association also referred to an incident where Ministers Vajira Abeywardena and Daya Gamage had faulted SLAS officers without referring to the individual or the incident. We condemn this as it affects the work of all SLAS officers  SLAS officers have been discouraged by the remarks, to the point that SLAS officers presently abstain from attending events or taking part in discussions headed by Minister Gamage.

The Association said at a media briefing that their issues could no longer be resolved through amicable discussions since the Ministry and other officials have not offered a reasonable solution. The Association has had discussions with the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet sub-committee, the Minister and Ministry Secretary and have written to these officials as well but to no avail. In light of increasing political interference, the Executive committees together with the district committees have decided to pursue strike action. We regret the inconvenience and hence we are advising the public to refrain from seeking government services, they said. Sri Lanka administrative Association  (SLASA) later called off their strike as the government said it would solve salary anomalies.

STRIKES September 2019  (4)

16, 000 non-academic staff members belonging to 27 Unions went on strike at 15 State Universities and 15 State-run Higher Education Institutions. The strike is intended to get the government to rectify the salary anomaly issue affecting non-academic staff members since 2016 when the Government increased public sector wages by Rs 10,000.

Non-academic staffers are paid on a different scale compared with civil servants, which deprives them of pensions, insurance, transfers, and other welfare benefits.Following the 2016 budget, non-academics were placed on a different grading which deprived them of many benefits. We are not asking for an increment, we are merely asking to be considered on par with other civil servants,”

State Universities were shut. Everyone in the University sector, barring Lecturers, are on strike. All exams scheduled during this period have been postponed indefinitely. No lectures are being held, while research work has also been severely affected. Universities have also had to put off admitting new students

University Non-academic Staff Trade Unions said their members would flood the streets of Colombo” on October 3, for a massive show of strength, as a warning to the Government. Our members from all State Universities, from Jaffna to Ruhuna, will converge on Colombo that day for this protest,” they said. The Inter-University Students’ Federation, Medical Faculty Students’ Action Committee and the Medical Faculty Students’ Parents Association also have expressed support for our TU action.

This strike went on for 30 days. Then they decided to suspend their action until November 2nd following successful negotiations with the Government. University Trade Union Alliance (UTUA)  said they will suspend their action in expectation of proposals to be put forward by the National Salaries Commission in November. An agreement was signed yesterday between the Higher Education Ministry, the University Grants Commission and the University Trade Union Alliance. We have been told that the NSC will revert with their suggestions on November 2nd. If we find those suggestions to be unsatisfactory we will resume strike action without notice.

STRIKES September 2019  (5)

Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA)  launched a token island-wide  24 hours strike on 18th September, deeply inconveniencing patients at Government hospitals. The trade union action was launched due to several unresolved issues, including salary anomalies, which authorities had failed to address despite repeated appeals, the GMOA said The GMOA also accused Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne of arbitrarily canceling the transfer list of doctors serving in the once war-torn Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country.

Medical Officers had been excluded from the Cabinet Paper regarding an  Interim Allowance. The decision to increase salaries in the Attorney General’s Department has also created a salary anomaly for doctors. GMOA said they would attend to all emergency services today despite their strike action. They would attend services at the National Hospital, Cancer Hospital, Army Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Renal Special Unit, and routine services.

 STRIKES September 2019  (6)

The strike launched by SLTB Trade unions affected about 60 of its 106 depots, said All Ceylon Transport Workers’ Union. The strike was launched to demand that the Rs 2,500 salary hike given to Government employees in the 2019 Budget, be granted to SLTB workers as well, and to amend the salaries of SLTB staff. The salaries of drivers, conductors, and technicians have been increased, but there has been no amendment to salaries of other staff.

STRIKES September 2019  (7)

The All Island Service Executive Officers’ Joint Committee is expected to launch an indefinite strike from today citing unresolved salary issues, reported the media on 18 September. They too had raised the issue created by the 2018 increase in salaries in the Legal field. They put forward 3 demands during discussions held with Minister. That no existing allowances be cut, that a flat rate should be given for the allowance, rather than going by various grades and that an interim allowance is paid until a solution is found for the salary anomaly. Since the Minister agreed to these demands, we have decided to postpone our TU action but, if the Cabinet Paper on granting an IA to 18 Government Services is not approved by Cabinet, we will go for TU action,” they said. ( Concluded)

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