The Sunday TimesFront Page

02nd June 1996




The man who led the strikers

Meet the man who caused the biggest blackout in Sri Lanka. Some might call him a "black night" or a "night rider". He's W.R. Lenty, President of the Organisation of Unions to protect the CEB.

A long standing trade unionist and a technician at the Laxapana power house, Mr. Lenty was busy answering calls from Ministers, MPs and others, when we met him at the LSSP office at Union Place yesterday, reports say.

Mr. Lenty on Friday came to office with a fleet of three wheelers packed with his supporters.

Though frail looking Mr. Lenty was like a "man of the hour" yesterday, as his telephone buzzed amidst tense negotiations to settle the crippling CEB strike.

Armed police raid NSSP office

By Shyamal Collure Chandimal Mendis

Heavily armed police yesterday raided the NSSP head office at Slave Island during a politbureau meeting and an outraged party leader Wickramabahu Karunaratne said, even the "repressive UNP" had never done such a thing.

Dr. Karunaratne told The Sunday Times the raiding policemen led by an SP were armed with rifles, grenade propellers and tear-gas.

"They ransacked the office for nearly one hour. They wanted the names of Central Committee members present at the meeting. Never has such a thing happened. This is a gross violation of democracy. Our party office was never raided even by the repressive UNP", he said.

Yesterday evening's raid followed allegations by government leaders that the NSSP and other parties had organised or supported the CEB strike.

Earlier yesterday, Dr. Karunaratne said yesterday that most of the CEB strikers were from left-oriented unions which had nothing to do with the UNP.

"These trade unions are left-oriented, The majority of the strikers are people who supported the PA to come to office and now they are protesting against the privatisation.", Dr. Karunaratne told the Sunday Times.

He said the UNP had been defeated because it tried to eliminate the working class and the working class would never help achieve UNP objectives.

Government leaders have alleged the NSSP was involved in the current strikes

Country limps back to near normalcy

By M. Ismeth, Chandimal Mendis and Tharuka Dissanayake

The country returned to near normalcy last night as most workers involved in the CEB strike returned to work after keeping the country without electricity, water and fuel for 72 hours.

The strike's chief organiser, W. R. Lenty, a technician from Laxapana power station confirmed that the strikers had been told to return to work, but maintained that they would press for their demands, including a halt to any plans to privatise the CEB or LECO.

The Government maintaining a tough line last evening said all CEB employees who failed to return to work by 6 p.m. yesterday would be deemed to have vacated their posts. Earlier strict instructions had gone to all branches of the CEB that the workers should sign on a specified form given and anybody turning up for work after that time should not be allowed to sign.

Directions also had gone out that none of the CEB workers involved in the strike should be allowed to sign on May 29, 30 and 31.

The Energy Ministry's Additional Secretary, R.W.H.M. Ranaviraja told The Sunday Times that Government order for all CEB workers to return to work by 6 p.m. yesterday was applicable to all staff who were involved in the strike.

The Defence Ministry had earlier issued directions to police stations to get the CEB employees back to work after the service was declared as an essential service, under emergency regulations.

A Government statement issued last afternoon said all employees who did not report to work by Saturday 6 p.m. would not only be deemed to have vacated their posts, but would also be liable for confiscation of their movable and immovable properties.

With the majority of the employees returning to work the CEB had managed to get four power generating stations operational and almost all parts of the country had received power, except for certain areas where due to technical problems there was still a blackout.

The Power stations at New Laxapana, Samanalawewa, Sapugaskanda and Kelanitissa began roaring back into action. The Sapugaskanda grid sub-station was also operational and power was supplied to some parts of Colombo and almost the entire Southern Province was supplied by Samanalawewa, Mr. Ranaviraja said.

But the Mahaweli Complex, which supplies the bulk of the country's power needs was still not operational by last evening.

"There are some repairs to be done at Victoria and Randenigala before we can begin generation at these plants", he said.

The end to the strike came after pressure mounted on the CEB Unions to call off their drastic action which had plunged the nation into darkness and chaos.

The Institute of Engineers of Sri Lanka called on CEB engineers to return to work and "relieve the people of this country of the hardships and suffering caused by the stoppage of the electricity supply and the consequent breakdown of essential services'.

It also appealed to the Government to work towards a rational solution to the issues involved. There were also demonstrations, some of them by pro-government organisations, against the strikers.

The Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the Organisation of Professional Association (OPA) in a joint statement appealed to the government and the Trade Uions of the CEB to negotiate an immediate settelment.

They called for a suspension of the privatisation of LECO and the resolution of the salary issues confronting the CEB staff by the Cabinet within a month.

Gen. Ratwatte snubs Mulberry group

General Anuruddha Ratwatte, Minister of Power and Energy, snubbed the PA's parliamentary backbenchers styled as the 'Mulberry Group' when they tried to intervene in settling the four day CEB strike.

Gen. Ratwatte who unleashed the police under tough emergency regulations to break the strike told a group of these Government MPs that the strikers must return to work un-conditionally. This was after the Mulberry Group had promised to take up the demands of the strikers with the Government if they returned to work.

On Friday evening when the MPs told Gen. Ratwatte to negotiate with the trade unions involved in the strike, he told them, "don't worry. I will give you power in the next 12 hours." Gen. Ratwatte had been at the CEB office till 4.00 a.m. on Saturday.

Political observers say that the CEB strikers appear to have cracked under the strong arm approach or Gen. Ratwatte and welcomed the Mulbery Group's intervention as a face saving measure.

On Thursday Labour Minister Mahinda Rajapakse had met representatives of trade unions involved in the strike, but apparently President Chandrika Kumaratunga was unhappy about the move. Mr. Rajapakse when contacted by The Sunday Times did not want to comment on the issue.

The Mulberry Group which met five of the trade union representatives on Friday also signed up an agreement on three key issues which should be the basis of the solution to the strike.

Under the agreement the privatisation of LECO should be suspended and the future privatisation of LECO should be protected through consultations. The other two conditions were that CEB and allied services should not be privatised while the salary anomalies should be rectified within a month.

The Sunday Times learns that neither the Present nor Minister Ratwatte was interested in any negotiations with the unions.

The Mulberry Group said that they were unhappy that the Minister Ratwatte was not willing to talk to the unions.

After further talks on Saturday the trade unions finally announced at a news conference that they were calling off the strike.

But, to the amazement of the 'Mulberry Group' the SLBC continued to repeat the announcement that severe action would be taken against the CEB employees if they do not return to work by 6 p.m. yesterday.

"We were surprised that the SLBC was not announcing that the strike had been called off", Mulberry Group member Dilan Perera told The Sunday Times.

He said they would continue to support the trade unions to achieve their demands.

The Friday's meeting with the trade unions was attended by the following members of the PA; Dulles Alahapperuma, Upali Gooneratne, Chamal Rajapakse, Reginald Cooray, Bennet Cooray, Janaka Thennakoon, Kesaralal Gunasekara, Neil Rupasinghe, Jinadasa Nandasena, Shalinda Dissanayaka, Dilan Perera, Felix Perera, Pandu Bandaranayake, Nalanda Ellawala, Ediriweera Premaratna, Ravi Karunanayake, Anura Yapa and Asitha Perera.

Schools reopen

All schools which were closed last week in the face of the total blackout will be reopened tomorrow, Education Ministry Secretary M. D. D. Peiris said.

Regarding universities, Universities Grants Commission Chief Professor S. Tilakaratne said vice chancellors would decide on when to reopen.

Thugs shoot at union chief

Telecom union chief B.P. Dissanayake said yesterday he had narrowly escaped death on Friday night when some thugs confronted him on the proposed Telecom strike and later started firing at him at his residence in Dankotuwa.

Mr. Dissanayake said he had returned to his house around 8.30 p.m. after a long day of picketing and discussions, was met by two unknown persons at the gate. They challenged him on the strike and shot at him when he ran into the house for safety, he said.

The Telecom trade union along with nine other trade unions including the CEB unions had discussions on Friday on the government's move to privatise public enterprises.

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