Grads vow to protest till jobs are found

Unemployed Graduates crisis
By Chathuri Dissanayake and Damith Wickramasekara

Udeshika Welgama (30) earns around Rs 3,500 a month working as a music teacher at the Cultural Centre in Dewalagama, but that is also not guaranteed as she will be paid only if there are at least 25 students in her class. The last time she got paid was in May.

Udeshika passed out of the University of Jayawardanapura in the year 2005 receiving a general degree in Arts offering Sinhala, Buddhist Civilization and Mass Communication as subjects. Today she is barely making ends meet with her knowledge of music which she studied as an extra curricular activity while she was in school.

Section of the graduates protesting opposite the Fort railway station

In 1999 She got through the ‘A’ levels at Pinnawala Central College with two As and two Bs and entered university after waiting for two years. Finally finishing her degree in 2005 she was hopeful of getting a teaching post in the government sector.

Today she depends on the salary of her husband --a bus conductor-- in the Sri Lanka Central Transport Board (CTB) to look after her ailing parents as well as for her family needs.

D. Sewwandi (27) an honours graduate in criminology which is offered only at the Sri Jayawardanapura University is today working in a garment factory as a work study officer earning a salary of Rs. 10,000 whereas a permanent employee in the same capacity earns about Rs. 20,000. She has no option but to continue as her two younger sisters and parents depend on her salary.

“We are not making any use of what we studied and we are not given permanent appointments as we are degree holders. People are under the impression we will leave if we receive government employment. I have gone for many interviews and what they said was they could not offer us jobs because we have a degree. So we are losing out in this too. What we are asking for is to use our skills in the development process,” she said.

Like Sewwandi and Udeshika 25,000 others are still waiting for a job in the government sector while trying to make ends meet by doing various odd jobs as supervisors, security guards, and drivers. Many others stay home depending on their parents to support them until they receive government jobs.
Many have applied for employment in the private sector but have been refused as they are over qualified or other reasons.

It was in this background the Unemployed Graduates Union (UGU) started a continuous ‘Sathyagraha’ campaign near the Fort railway station last Wednesday demanding government provide jobs to nearly 25,000 unemployed graduates in different parts of the country.

According to Sujith Kuruwita convener of the UGU every year around 20,000 graduates enter the work force. Of this number around 13,000 are recruited by the private sector while others wait in the hope of joining the government sector.

“The last time graduates were recruited to the government sector was prior to 2004 when the United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA) provided 42,000 jobs. There were only 2,000 to 3,000 unemployed graduates at the time. Since then the number has risen to around 25,000” he said.

Mr. Kuruwita claimed since December 2006 no one was even given an opportunity to discuss the problem. “When we staged a large protest on 4th December 2007 Deputy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya promised he would recruit unemployed graduates to 19,700 existing vacancies in the government sector but since then nothing has happened,” he said. He accused government “of not getting approval from either the Cabinet or the Salaries and Cadre Commission, budgetary evidence was not available either. This year they are going for a supplementary estimate not even budget, this means no action will be taken” he said.

“This time we will not stop the agitation until proper action is taken to solve this problem. Within the coming weeks unemployed graduates in the eastern and northern provinces too will take to the streets and join us,” added Mr. Kuruvita. Central Province Co-ordinator of the UGU Chanaka Bandara, asked government to use the rich supply of human resources among unemployed graduates in the development process government is now talking about.

Deputy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya speaking to the Sunday Times said government was conducting a census of graduates and possible vacancies available.

“We have a programme which handles recruitment to the government sector and is active at present. Accordingly we will cover all vacancies through this. We are planning to recruit 3,000 Aesthetic Studies graduates and are now collecting information on vacancies available. Graduates should not panic” he said.

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