Unions vow protests after budget dashes pay hopes

By Malik Gunatilleke

Disappointed trade unionists are threatening to launch fresh protests to demand a pay rise for public sector employees. The threat follows the government’s announcement during the recent budget speech that the wage hike, promised during the election campaign, would be included only in the 2011 budget.
The unions are, however, angry that the much-promised salary review was not announced in the 2010 budget.

Many unionists claim that the government had failed to fulfil its election pledges to provide relief to the working class. According to the protesters, state employees expected a salary increase in last week’s budget as various government-backed unions had made such assurances in recent months.
Trade unionists have been continuously agitating for a pay hike in view of the rising cost of living, pointing out that there had not been a salary revision since 2006.

According to the Department of Census and statistics, public sector salaries are supposed to be revised by Rs. 67 per index point because the Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI) has increased by 63 per cent from 133.5 in January 2006 to 217.7 index points in June 2010. A government sector employee deserves a salary increase of Rs.5,641 in line with these changes in the CCPI alone, say union leaders.

The government, however, promised a salary increase of around Rs.2,500 during the election campaign. But the unions are upset over the delay in its implementation. All Ceylon Health Workers Union president and Trade Union Federation general secretary Saman Ratnapriya told the Sunday Times that the budget proposals had “clearly marginalised the working classes and had failed to deliver on all of the government’s promises”.

He pointed out that the government initially promised to raise the salaries in March but said later that the announcement would come in this year’s budget. Still nothing has been done, he added. “We haven’t had a salary revision since 2006 while the government has increased the prices of food items, gas and flour,” Ratnapriya said.

Ratnapriya claimed that there is a salary deficit of Rs.3,135 which should be rectified. He also criticised the government for failing to fulfil its poll pledges. He said the government had promised an increase of Rs. 2.50 per each index point since 2006.

Sri Lanka Government Management Services Union general secretary Tudor Ranasinghe said his group would seek a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss the reasons behind the delay. This union had earlier indicated that pay increases would be announced in the 2010 budget.
“The government has now promised a salary revision in next year’s budget but the people were certainly expecting at least a part of the increase this time. We will have to meet as a union and then seek a meeting with the President to get an answer for the people,” he said.

Ranasinghe said the government might have a new scheme to provide some relief to the people and urged it to unveil that plan. He said the union was yet to receive an appointment to meet the President although earlier reports had indicated that he would consult the unions ahead the budget.

In addition to the salary row, some unionists are also protesting against what they called inadequate budget allocations to vital sectors. They claimed that the budget had not provided enough relief to the working class while some policy decisions had been made with the clear aim of boosting the personal gains of a few people.

Gamini Kumarasinghe, a spokesperson for the JVP-backed All Ceylon Health Service Union, said the health sector had not been allocated enough funds in the latest budget in addition to the “clear deception” taking place on the salary issue.

“They have allocated less money to the health sector when compared with the previous budget,” he charged. He warned that soaring prices of drugs could worsen the situation as the public health sector had been grappling with various shortages in recent months.

Kumarasinghe claimed that the sector did not receive around Rs.9 billion as per the previous year’s budget proposals and he predicted that the problem might continue next year. He claimed that at least a 30 per cent increase was needed to solve some of the critical problems in the health sector.

“Whenever there’s a shortage, the authorities get approval for last-minute bulk purchases and they pocket the commission. This budget will ensure that they can continue with these transactions,” he said.

The Trade Union Confederation will meet on Wednesday July 7 to discuss the issues and devise future strategies. It also plans to rally the public sector employees to sign a petition, highlighting their grievances.

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