Cost of election bribes
Posted on December 16th, 2015

Editorial Courtesy Island

So, in the end the government did what it had to do in spite of its rhetoric. It granted some of the key demands of the warring trade unions which were all out to launch a strike. As a result, the public sector employees will have Rs. 10,000 each they were given by way of an allowance added to their basic salaries in stages. It was a case of Hobson’s choice for the government.

A 10,000–rupee increase in the public sector workers’ salaries is sure to result in serious salary anomalies, the rectification of which will lead to some categories getting much more than Rs. 10,000 each. The pension bill will also increase substantially, aggravating the country’s financial woes further.

The ruling party leaders must be regretting that they ever promised public sector employees such a huge election bribe before the last presidential polls. They were in cloud cuckoo land at that time, making all sorts of promises and claiming that if waste and corruption were eliminated enough funds could be saved to increase salaries and give relief to the general public. Now, they have to make good their promises.

The government decision to be flexible without playing chicken with trade unions and meet workers’ demands has helped avert a political disaster in the short run. If the strike scheduled for yesterday had been staged, it would have affected the ordinary people, especially tens of thousands students sitting the GCE O/L examination as private bus operators and some teachers’ unions had warned. Trade union action also tends to snowball and that is the last thing any government wants. However, the present administration’s problems are far from over. Now that it has buckled under pressure there is the possibility of trade unions making more demands.

The manner in which the present UNP-led administration is tackling labour disputes is in sharp contrast to how the JRJ government reacted to a general strike in July 1980; tens of thousands of strikers were sacked overnight. The incumbent government has offered Rs. 250,000 each to the surviving July strikers after a lapse of 35 years! Better late than never! Many July strikers committed suicide, unable to look after their families and their dependents must also be compensated.

The present-day trade unions are lucky that since 1977 no government has been able to secure a five-sixths majority in Parliament thanks to the proportional representation system.

The trade unions which threatened to strike on Wednesday should be ashamed of their callous disregard for schoolchildren sitting a vital examination. They may argue that they have to win their demands before the passage of the budget. But, we believe, no struggle is worth winning at the expense of children. The health sector trade unions, too, have a history of holding children to ransom. On Feb. 16, 2008, we pointed out in these columns that some nurses attached to the Peradeniya Teaching hospital had stooped so low as to remove the oxygen masks of ICU patients including a child during a trade union struggle to settle scores with some doctors.

Workers have a right to resort to trade union action to win their demands and protect their rights. However, it behoves them to act responsibly. Regrettably, they do not turn the searchlight inwards. The public sector is characterised by inefficiency, lethargy, waste and corruption. Trade unions have a pivotal role to play in enhancing national productivity as in countries like Japan. Instead, they are preoccupied with making demands. Let them be urged to ensure that their members earn their keep before asking for more.

The two main political parties had better abandon the deplorable practice of vying with each other to offer election bribes to woo the public in general and state employees in particular.


One Response to “Cost of election bribes”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Trade unions have the RIGHT to demand this ELECTION PROMISE.

    Without this election promise, MARU SIRA could NEVER have WON.

    Now he cannot run away. Keep the promise.

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