Rail strike: thousands thrown into despair | Daily News

Rail strike: thousands thrown into despair

Unions adamant to continue:
Stranded passengers outside the Colombo Fort Railway Station on Wednesday evening, after railway trade unions struck work. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage, Sudam Gunasinghe, Chaminda Niroshana and Malan Karunarathne
Stranded passengers outside the Colombo Fort Railway Station on Wednesday evening, after railway trade unions struck work. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage, Sudam Gunasinghe, Chaminda Niroshana and Malan Karunarathne

Lakmali Jayawardena, a regular commuter said she waited for hours at the Maradana Railway Station on Wednesday evening without a train to return home to Ambalangoda.

Leaving her one-and-a-half-year-old child with her mother and grandmother, Jayawardena had come to work in the morning hoping to get home as soon as she finished, but as a result of the railway strike that was launched suddenly, she had gone home only at around 12.00 midnight.

“It was passed 10 o’clock when I left the Maradana Railway Station and when I reached home, it was around 12.30 am. My mother and grandmother were sitting outside the house, without even having dinner, until I reached home. And they had managed to put my child to sleep,” she said.

Jayawardena had dropped the idea of getting into a bus with the hope that the trains might leave soon. Unfortunately, the strike continued despite several attempts made by the government to stop the trade unions from resorting to strike action.

“My friends who went in buses told me that they were caught in huge traffic jams in Wellawatte and Dehiwala. As there was no train, I did not have an option. So I got into an intercity bus and went home,” she said.

Jayawardena further said that she met so many people who were stranded without enough money to pay for an intercity bus and added that the trains are being used not by rich people, but by middle-class people who take the train because it is quick and cheap.

Strike continues for second day

On Wednesday, employees of the Sri Lanka Railway Department, including engine drivers, guards, controllers and stationmasters took part in strike action that left thousands of commuters stranded. According to the Railway Trade Union Alliance (RTUA), the cornerstone of this issue is a salary anomaly caused by a Cabinet decision.

In response to the strike action, passengers also launched a protest opposite the Colombo Fort Railway Station against the sudden railway trade unions’ strike. However, RTUA Co-Convener Lal Ariyaratne said that the work stoppage by the RTUA would continue as there weren’t any signs of the matter being resolved.

Ariyaratne said no discussion had been offered to them by any authority concerned and added that the strike would continue.

“We have launched a sudden strike, which started at 3.00 pm on Wednesday and will continue until further notice, over several issues, including salary anomalies,” he added.

In the meantime, Transport and Civil Aviation Secretary G.S. Withanage said yesterday that Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva informed the trade unions that he was ready to have a discussion with them in order to bring an end to the strike.

“But it looked like they still wanted to continue with the strike, despite the minister’s willingness to engage in a discussion,” he said.

Withanage explained that the Ministry forwarded a Cabinet paper requesting approval to rectify the salary anomalies of railway employees. However, the Cabinet decided to suspend consideration of the request as it can create issues to the salaries of the other public servants as well.

General Manager of Railways S.M. Abeywickrema said that he received a letter at around 4 pm on Wednesday from the Supervising Managers stating that they were going to join the strike. “We do not have the authority to decide on salary anomalies. The government has to solve this problem,” he said.

He said that the Minister had asked the strikers to stop the strike and come for a discussion.

Initiatives taken by Transport Ministry

Thousands of people were stranded following the unannounced strike and according to Withanage, the Transport Ministry has decided to take necessary action to make sure that people travel without any inconvenience.

The ministry has also requested the private sector to deploy buses even though they do not possess route permits.

He said that the government has also cancelled the leave of all SLTB employees.

Furthermore, the Finance Ministry announced that special bus services have been provided to facilitate train commuters who were stranded due to the train strike and that private buses would operate on any route regardless of route permits.

The ministry said in a statement that train commuters were permitted to travel on SLTB buses using their train tickets or season tickets, until the railway trade union strike concludes

The statement said the government would repay the cost incurred by the Sri Lanka Transport Board for providing the special bus service. The statement added that the government requested all the trade unions to come for discussions after stopping the strike.

A special bus service by the Army was deployed to transport students sitting for the GCE Advanced Level Examination.

In the meantime, Abeywickrema said that 10 trains operated from Colombo Fort Railway Station using technical supervisors yesterday.

[Rail commuters speak…]

Aruna Jayasinghe (39) from Gampaha

People speak a lot about peace and unity. It is for something like this that people should unite and fight for our rights. We all saw how people were stranded yesterday.

The railway unions continued their strike regardless of what people were going through. The politicians are also the same. They don’t care for the betterment of the public. All they want is money, fame and power. I don’t even know how Sri Lanka would see development if it continues to march in this manner.

M. Chandrasiri (55) from Gampaha

It is very wrong for the railway unions to blame the government totally. Even if the measures taken by the government were unfair to the employees, they can never justify the strike they launched on Wednesday.

Dilmini Abeyratne (27) from Moratuwa

The employees are paid to provide a better service to people and not to put them in trouble. It seems in Sri Lanka all the public services are the same, no proper system is being implemented. The public services are no more for the public. It is used to fulfill petty motives of the trade unions and politicians.

An announced, the strike launched by the trade unions showed the public their true colours. It was such a selfish move by them.

Ruchira Ariyaratne (28) from Kalutara

It was past 12 am when I left the Colombo Fort Railway Station on Wednesday and got home early in the morning. But I am happy that the commuters were able to show some kind of objection to the measures taken by the trade unions.

Thilina Kaluthotage from Ratnapura

Train plays an important part in the lives of many people who travel every day to work and school. Even though the strike started at 3 pm on Wednesday, the relevant officials and politicians have not been able to find a solution to the issue.

I was coming after work and saw that commuters had surrounded the railway station to object the strike. And their only demand was to arrange a train for them to go home. Some people acted violently, as they couldn’t control their anger over the situation. Around 9.30 pm on Wednesday, the people were still near the station looking for ways to get back home. It was at 10.30 pm that the government deployed the Army with buses.

Even in that situation, something very interesting that happened was that a group of young people arrived at the station and distributed water bottles and biscuits to the people who were stranded.


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