BY Kavindya Chris Thomas and Shaahidah Riza
A five-member Ministerial Committee was appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers yesterday (12), to inquire into the issues put forward by Railway trade unions and to hold discussions with those engaged in the ongoing strike.
The committee, led by Minister of Special Assignments Dr. Sarath Amunugama, was announced yesterday at a press briefing. A Gazette Notification was also issued declaring Railways as an essential service.
Based on this special Gazette notification, the Department of Railways announced that Railway employees, who do not report to work, will be considered as having vacated their posts.
The strike, launched by 12 trade unions of the Railway Department, continues for the seventh day with little to no progress made following discussions with Government officials. The Ministry of Transport recalled retired Railway employees to provide their services, while it was made compulsory for all Railway employees to report to work on 11 December.
President Maithripala Sirisena has requested all striking railway workers to report for work, taking into consideration the inconvenience caused to students who are currently sitting for the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level examination, as well as the inconvenience experienced by the general commuters.
The President also added that an opportunity would be given to the Railway trade unions involved in the strike action, to engage in discussions to clarify and come to a final decision in relation to their unresolved issues.
Despite the Railway strike, the Department of Examinations had not recorded any reduction in student attendance or delays in relation to the exam, which commenced yesterday (12). Commissioner General of Examinations Sanath Pujitha noted that all students had arrived at the examination centres on time.
However, Railway trade unions said that the strike will continue until the Government provides a favourable response to their demands.
The Railway Trade Union Alliance yesterday noted that the Government is attempting to suppress the trade unions by issuing vacation of post letters to all striking employees. Co-Convenor of the Alliance S.P. Withanage speaking to Ceylon Today said, “The Government’s attempt to wage war against the trade unions is not going to end well for them.” However, Withanage asserted that the Alliance does not condone the ongoing strike action and condemned the reasons given as the cause of the trade union strike action.
“The Government’s move to make the Railway service an essential one, through last week’s special Gazette notice and the way in which it was incorporated to send vacation of post letters to the employees, is a clear attempt to suppress the trade unions. This has been the case in the past as well, which we are well versed in.”
Withanage claimed that this move comes following the many discussions the trade unions have had with many Government officials, who claimed that their reasons were justifiable. “If they are justifiable, they should have provided solutions to this,” he noted.
The Alliance announced that the Government should take immediate steps to abolish the special Gazette of last week and to appoint an official State committee to discuss matters with the trade unions and provide solutions. The Alliance claimed that they would not accept the Amunugama committee as they perceived it as an inexperienced political team which would not resolve the matter.
Meanwhile, the General Secretary of Locomotive Operating Engineers Union Indika Dodangoda noted that none of the employees are ready to accept the vacation of post letters that are sent by the Department.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, Convener of the Railway Operation Supervisory Officers Union Janaka Fernando added that the Railway unions will continue the strike despite the threat of the issuance of vacation of post letters. He added that so far no one had approached the union leaders with a vacation of post letters. He added that the Government’s ‘despicable’ act of rendering the Railway service as an essential one will be officially reported to the United States (US) Embassy in Sri Lanka. In the face of a strike, rendering the said service as an essential one, contravenes the International Labour Organisation laws, Fernando said.
“No one has been served with vacation of post letters yet. I do not know who has been dismissed. However, there are about 2,100 Railway employees who are presently engaged in the protest cum strike. So if they are going to issue vacation of post letters, they would have to do so for the entire 2,100 of them. We are working towards reporting this to the US Embassy in Sri Lanka. If they consider this, even the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus grant will be affected. In the past Railway unions have engaged in a strike for a longer duration than at present. Just because we have staged a strike for a few days, why is the Government in haste to issue vacation of post letters? The deplorable treatment of the Railway unions by the Government is a message to the rest of the Government servants to act according to the latter’s instructions,” Fernando noted.
Courtesy : CEYLON TODAY