Controversy simmers over 1,018 teachers, principals and education administrators being promoted to higher grades on grounds of political victimisation. Trade unions say there is nothing wrong with providing compensation for the victims but they are against promoting the victims to high posts without assessment. The government refutes the unions’ claims saying that they are only [...]


Minister vows to stand firm over political promotions

Unions claim move discriminates against teachers who rise on merit

Controversy simmers over 1,018 teachers, principals and education administrators being promoted to higher grades on grounds of political victimisation.

A school in Puttalam: Students while away the time as teachers had gone on a token strike on Wednesday. Pic by Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe

Trade unions say there is nothing wrong with providing compensation for the victims but they are against promoting the victims to high posts without assessment.

The government refutes the unions’ claims saying that they are only providing a (symbolic) grade elevation and granting a salary increase to compensate them.

Teacher unionists representing both sides of the argument clashed in front of the Education Ministry in Colombo on Wednesday, engaging in heated arguments and hurling stones and rotten eggs at each other. Principals, education directors and administrative officials were involved in the melee. The President of the Teacher Services Union, Dhamikka Allahaperuma, was injured after being hit with a stone.

A faction comprising the Ceylon Teachers Union, Teachers’ Services Union, Lanka Teacher Services’ Association and Sri Lanka National Principals’ Union went ahead with a token strike on Wednesday against the promotions. Schools were partially affected with reduced attendance of teachers and students.

The President of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said his members did not oppose financial compensation for political victimisation but were against promotions that were contrary to regulations in the Service Minutes.

He warned that if Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and ministry officials did not heed protests his members would take strong union action by vacating their roles at school examinations.

He also said teachers needed to pass assessments to attain certain posts and grade elevations and it was unfair for teachers who went through this process to see others gain promotion without facing assessment.

Mr. Stalin also expressed concerns for the students studying under such teachers.

He said the appointments were being granted as political favours rather than as justice for teachers who had genuinely faced victimisation.

The assault on Mr. Allahaperuma at Wednesday’s demonstration was condemned by the Ceylon Teachers’ Services Union General Secretary, Mahinda Jayasinghe, who said the attackers set a bad example to students and called for those responsible to be taken into custody.

Ambalantota: Student attendance was also minimal on the day of the token strike by teachers and principals. Pic by Rahul Samantha Hettiarachchi

Mr. Jayasinghe said the Education Minister was providing favours to UNP-affiliated teachers and officials and claimed that most of those who opposed unionists protesting against the promotions were assistant secretaries and directors of the Ministry.

“This is how the minister replies to teacher unionists – by using brute force when we struggle against wrong actions of the ministry,” he said.

Education Ministry Assistant Secretary (Trade Unions) Priyantha Pathberiya, defending the minister’s action to award the promotions, denied that his unionists hurled stones.

He said that they protested to make the public aware that the 1,018 teachers who are to be promoted too have a right to defend the government decision.

He said there were teachers, principals and educational administrative officials who had been victims for more than 20 years as earlier governments delayed appointments, dismissed or demoted them for political reasons.

He said the ministry would merely provide a technical grade elevation to 1,018 teachers to increase their salaries and pensions but that the promotions would not change the teachers’ duties to higher-level work.

“During the last regime around 6,000 teachers were given high posts by the ministry on the basis of political victimisation but we only request a grade increase and salary increase,” he said.

Mr. Pathberiya said he himself had faced interdictions six times for political reasons which had prevented him from sitting for exams and gaining promotions.

One teacher who has faced political victimisation, principal and lawyer Priyashantha Maddumarala, who works at Subodhi National School in Battaramulla, said he wanted his grade raised so that he would receive a higher salary and pension.

“I am 53 years old now and will have to retire in two years, so I and others like me will not be appointed to high posts now. We only request our deserved grade increase and salaries,” Mr. Maddumarala said.

He said people like him were not entitled to duty-free vehicles or any privileges of those posts or grades but would only have a salary increase.

The Commissioner General of Examinations, Sanath Pujitha, said he did not take threats of union action over school examinations seriously as he believed teacher unionists would not leave students in a difficulties but that as a precaution the Examinations Department will investigate alternatives if teachers withdraw from examination services.

Examinations would go ahead as planned. “There will be no delay over Grade 5 scholarship and Advanced Level examinations,” he said.

Minister Kariyawasam said he would not be intimidated by unions and would proceed with the promotions which he described as being only grade elevations and salary increases.

He said the 1,018 personnel had been chosen from 14,000 applicants who had experienced political victimisation.

“They are victims and they have a right to get their grade increase along with salaries,” Mr. Kariyawasam said.

“We are not actively appointing them, we are only giving them a symbolic promotion that will raise their grade and salaries,” he said.

‘Missing file’ blocked teacher at every step   

Palitha Hewamudali, 50, a graduate teacher who has served 29 years in the education sector, seeks promotion to Grade 3 level because, he says, for years he has been denied promotion for political reasons.

He wants the government to backdate the promotion to January 1, 2000. He emphasised the promotion would only increase his salary and would not carry enhanced responsibilities.

“That is the least the government can give me,” he said. “I was not given deserved promotions and therefore am awaiting a special promotion I deserve and the salary I ought to have.”

Mr. Hewamudali said he began his career as an assistant teacher in 1990 while engaged in higher education at the University of Colombo.

He said that as a student he had become involved in politics, supporting the campaigns of current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (United National Party) for the 2001 and 2005 elections, and had engaged in some activity with Professor G.L. Peiris, who was then with that party but who later became foreign minister and justice minister in another government.

He graduated with a degree in Mathematics and obtained a Masters degree at the Buddhist and Pali University as well as a Diploma in Education at the University of Colombo.

Mr. Hewamudali explained that he had been appointed as acting principal at Tibet S. Mahinda Vidyalaya at Kolonnawa but that was short-lived as the People’s Alliance government of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had dismissed him from service in 1995, saying that he was not suited to be acting principal.

“I was forced to go, and I remember that they used thugs to remove our items from our offices,” he said. Similar action had occurred again in 1997.

“I was seconded to work in another office but before I was able to take up the appointment the Jayawardenapura Zonal Office claimed my file had gone missing and said that I had abandoned my career. They sacked me and I was forced to find work in another institution,” he said

“After 2004, I was without employment for three years and nine months. My children were small at the time and surviving was very difficult,” he said.

He said he had been unable to sit for the 2005 principal services exam because his file was apparently missing.

“I kept appealing to the provincial education office about my file. Finally, they allowed me to search for the file and I found it at the zonal office on top of a cupboard,” he said.

“Since I had been stripped of my previous job I was again appointed as an assistant teacher, at Veragoda School at Thotalanga in Colombo.

Discrimination nevertheless continued in later years, he said: “I even took exams and even received 166 marks at the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Services exams in 2012 but teachers with lower marks were appointed to administrative posts and I was ignored.

“I was considered for a Grade 3 administrative appointment in 2007 but was not given the appointment due to political victimisation.

“After eight interviews I was finally considered for promotion to Grade 3 in 2016 and now only, under this government, the promotions are being granted.

“I would like the government to backdate my promotion to 2001 and provide the salary arrears of which I was deprived,” he said.

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