Government and unions heading for showdown - Demand for Rs. 5,000 salary increase

  • President holds discussion with Govt. affiliated unions
  • Minister proposes post of Working Director for TU boss
By Damith Wickremasekara

Trade unions not affiliated to the government in the Petroleum, Electricity, Port and Water Board sectors, are gearing for a three-day strike in the event government fails to agree to their demand for a salary increase.

President of the Ceylon Electricity Board’s Viduli Sevaka Sangamaya Ranjan Lal told the Sunday Times the move to call a strike was discussed among unions, including JVP backed unions and a decision was expected by Tuesday.The Unions are demanding a minimum salary increase of Rs. 5,000 per month.

Last week’s work-to-rule by the CPC created havoc in fuel distribution.

However Deputy Minister of Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said it was unlikely there would be an immediate pay raise until the Government presented a new budget next year. “A salary increase can be given in April next year when monies are allocated from the budget for an additional payment. Until then the Treasury will not release funds for this purpose” he said.

The move to go ahead with the strike came as the government failed to respond to the demands of the unions or hold discussions with trade unions not affiliated to the government last week. Only unions supportive of Government including the Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya branch at the CPC was summoned for the meeting with the President.

Government has sought the assistance of the pro-government unions to operate essential services at the CPC, Port, Electricity and Water Board.

Chethiya Ekanayaka President of the NSS at the CPC told the Sunday Times “we have pledged support to the government to maintain essential services and discussed strategies to maintain fuel distribution in the event of a strike”

He said during discussions, the President had assured them he would discuss the issue of salary increases on November 3 and make a public statement as to when these salary increases could be offered. “We are satisfied with the offer and have decided to support the government at this moment” he said.

Mr Ekanayaka claimed 80% of the 6,700 strong work-force at the CPC were members of his union, a claim strongly disputed by pro-JVP unions. The Sunday Times learns that Deputy Minister of Labour (non cabinet) Mr. Mervyn Silva had proposed Mr. Ekanayaka be offered a Working Director post at the CPC and at least four promotions.

Demonstrating CPC workers .

Mr. Ekanayaka said he had heard about the proposal, but had not been informed of any appointment. He added such appointments were not unusual and pointed out even during the UNP period such appointments had been granted.

JVP MP K.D. Lalkantha, convener of the National Trade Union Centre --a joint trade union front-- told the Sunday Times if the proposed strike by the four sectors failed to receive a positive response from Government, they would call a general strike to achieve long overdue demands.

“We may first hold demonstrations at institution level before calling a full-scale strike”, he said. Salary increases for the CPC, CEB and Water board were due in January after a three-year period while salaries at the Port were due after a one-year period.

A salary increase to employees of the CPC had been approved by the CPC Board subject to Cabinet approval when salary increases were abruptly postponed indefinitely.

President of the joint union of the Water Board Upali Ratnayaka told the Sunday Times if government failed to grant a salary increases this year, they may have to wait for another three years, as salary increases were due only once in three years.

President of the Ports Common Union Chandrasena Mahagamage said around 14,500 workers attached to the port were expecting a salary increase and were confident a majority of the workers would support the strike action.

Meanwhile last week’s ‘go slow’ campaign by the CPC dealt a crippling blow to the industrial sector, the business community and the public. Despite the campaign ending on Monday fuel distribution returned to normal only by Thursday.

Several public and private functions had be postponed. On Monday attendance in schools and public and private offices dropped. Long queues were seen at filling stations while some filling stations were forced to shut down operations.

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