Enough is enough | Daily News

Enough is enough

Hot on the heels of the railway trade unions calling off their strike, rival trade unions who did not participate in the work stoppage has now threatened to down their tools, over some salary anomaly. Not only that, Ceylon Electricity Board trade unions, too, have commenced a stayagraha, opposite the CEB head office, also, over salary issues, with the threat of a full blown strike looming. Not to be outdone, postal unions, too, are poised to go on strike, aggrieved by allegedly being left behind in the salary scales, following the upping of the wages of the railway employees, who struck work. And true to form, the GMOA is flexing it’s muscles over Cabinet approval granted to minimum standards for medical education, saying it should first have the sanction of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), with the threatening tone of the doctors, unmistakable, for yet another work stoppage. Meanwhile, according to newspaper reports, petroleum trade unions, too, are sounding warnings to the government, regarding the handing over of the Trincomalee oil tanks to India, leaving no doubt as to where things are heading.

It appears that the trade unions are increasingly becoming emboldened to strike, at their whim, leaving the government at their mercy. Soon after the conclusion of the railway strike, one of the union leaders boldly claimed that they brought the government to its knees api aanduwa danagessuwa. The government has only itself to blame, for this state of affairs. It is increasingly becoming apparent that the government is placed on the back foot, so to speak, where strikes and trade union demands are concerned. Recent experience have shown that the government, though talking tough, at the outset, will surrender in the end, giving into trade union demands, making it look meek and impotent in the face of continuing TU action.

As the railway strike was getting prolonged, the government declared the railways as an Essential Service, and, threatened the strikers to return to work, on pain of dismissal. The same devise was applied in connection with the petroleum and the doctors’ strikes, too, to no avail. The President, signing the Essential Services gazette, in the end, amounted to nothing, with no worker dismissed, while the trade unions were granted their demands. The strikers have now got used to this. They know the threat of dismissal will not be carried out and they can afford to cock a snook at the government and get away with it.

It is time that the Yahapalanaya government took matters to hand. It cannot allow a bunch of unruly trade union activists to hold the public to ransom. It should act firmly and decisively, to give effect to it’s Essential Services decrees. It cannot allow the country to be stampeded by strikes. It goes without saying what work stoppages, on a regular basis, would do to the economy. Strikes are the last thing a government, dependent on foreign investments, need, at this stage.

Many blame JRJ for throwing out the July ‘80 strikers from employment. But, had he not dealt firmly with the trade unions, the fledgling open economy would not have taken off. There would have been no Free Trade Zones or foreign investments. Through his action he sent a clear message to would be investors that his government meant business. This also put paid to the spate of strikes that were the order of the day, as at present.

Besides, the government could not be unaware that the current rash of strikes is politically motivated. What is the need for a locomotive driver, whose take home pay is Rs. 225,000 a month, to go on strike and risk losing everything? There is, no doubt, a political force fanning the current wave of strikes. The tone and tenor of the trade union leaders who give interviews to television is clearly indicative of this. With local government elections one month away, it cannot be coincidental that all the above mentioned trade unions have decided to strike together, so to speak, to cripple the government and make it look vulnerable in the eyes of the public. Besides, not a single member of the Joint Opposition spoke against the callous action of the railway strikers, in the midst of the GCE O/L exam. Not even Bandula Gunawardena, a former Minister of Education, and, a tuition master to boot. On the contrary Dinesh Gunawardena, one-time Transport Minister, took the side of the trade unions and heaped blame on the government.

The government, even at this late stage, should consider fallback options during strikes. At the time of the petroleum strike, it was proposed to appoint a Task Force, of sorts, headed by Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, to get essential services running, during times of crisis. But this too appears to have been placed on the back burner - another reason for the trade unions to get emboldened, and, call the government’s bluff.

Time is running out for the government. It can no longer go on hesitating and allow itself to be painted into a corner by politically motivate trade unions. It can do so only at great cost to itself. 


 

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