Meet demands now or face strike action, says FUTA

Higher Education in crisis
  • 12,000 non academic staff still out on strike
By S. Gunasekara

Academic staff of state universities will join the ongoing strike by non-academic staff from July 4, unless the Government agreed to meet demands put forward by them, Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) President Nirmal Dewasiri has announced.

Addressing a news conference in Colombo on Friday, Dr. Dewasiri said the academics’ strike would be in support of their demand for a 20 per cent pay hike and a government undertaking to safeguard the free-education system.

He charged that the government was reluctant to support education in general and university education in particular. “In 2005 the government’s expenditure on education was 3.4% of the GDP, while in 2012 it had been reduced to a miserable 1.9%. In 2005, the government spent 0.52% of the GDP on the universities. It has declined to 0.27% in 2012,” he said.

FUTA’s Peradeniya University Branch General Secretary Terrance Madhujith warned that if the strike by the academic staff was allowed to continue, not only state universities but education in general too would be affected.

He added there would be no “new intake to the universities in October and there would be no undertaking of any school matters such as the setting of papers for the ‘A’ level exams, nor will there be any marking of papers” he warned.

Referring to the ongoing strike of non-academic university staff –numbering 12,000 workers- which commenced at the beginning of the month he said it had critically affected the day-to-day functioning of all sate-run universities. It had also led to the cancellation of daily schedules including weekend classes.

A case in point he said was the abrupt cancellation of weekend classes at the Colombo University without adequate notice being given to students. He added the decision to launch strike action came in the aftermath of failed talks between the Inter University Trade Union Federation and the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education Dr. Sunil Jayanthe Navaratne on June 5.

The issue in dispute was the failure of authorities to settle salary anomalies which had existed over the past several years. Dr. Madhujith said facilities such as sanitation, garbage disposal, hostel services were a few of the services provided by the non-academics which had been brought to a standstill following the strike.

As a result large numbers of students staying at university hostels had no alternative but to return to their homes.President of the Inter-University Student Union, Sanjeewa Bandara said if the strike continued it would affect the academic timetable for the year. This action would cause the semester to be extended and delays in holding of exams he added.

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