Dealing with strikes | Daily News

Dealing with strikes

The decision by our school teachers and by our civil servants to suspend their strike action yesterday was most welcome. According to our front page story in yesterday's edition, two major state sector trade unions, the Ceylon Teachers’ Services Union and the Sri Lanka Administrative Services Association (SLASA) had decided to call off their strike temporarily yesterday (Monday). This follows a promise by the authorities to look into their salary anomalies and promotions. The ministerial sub-committee appointed to arrive at solutions to end the ongoing spate of strike action by several state sector trade unions was due to meet the striking union representatives yesterday including the railway trade unions.

At the time of writing, the outcome of the discussions was still being awaited. Hopefully, things will develop positively, from the point of view of the public, who have been bearing the brunt of the trade union action during the past few days particularly the railway commuters and those who had been stampeding at the Immigration and Emigration Department to urgently obtain their passports for overseas travel for employment. It is also hoped that following the recent trend of chain reactions, the suspension of trade union action in one sector would not lead to another Government sector, picking up the baton and downing tools to win over their own demands.

We say this because it is reported that the Government doctors were poised for yet another of their now routine strike actions by which they expect to bring the Government to its knees, almost on the eve of a Presidential election. On no account should the Government capitulate to the demands of the GMOA. State Minister of Transport Ashok Abeysinghe said the Railways is to be declared an essential service and that they have already requisitioned the services of over 100 retired engine drivers, guards and other technical hands to cope with the strike. Army Commander Lt General Shavendra Silva too has offered assistance by means of deploying his men with the necessary skills to maintain essential services.

Speaking at an event in Kandy the Army Chief said his personnel were ready to cooperate at any time in a situation where essential services are being disrupted. He also said the Army was doing its utmost to safeguard national security .In a sense the wave of strikes now sweeping the country could well pose a threat to national security. It is turmoil and unrest that provide fertile grounds for terrorists to make their move. Hence, the striking trade unions should give this aspect much thought and act with responsibility. They should not provide diversions for the enemy to strike with ease. After all it is hardly three months since the extremist terrorists struck and although the immediate threat is over, like retired Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake said, a lone wolf strike could not be discounted.

It has to be said that failure on the part of the authorities to take punitive action against strikers who hitherto ignored Emergence decrees has led to the state of impunity with which the strikers act today even going to the extent of brazenly challenging the Government to carry out its threats.

One recalls during the second JVP uprising, in 1987/90, the Army being deployed to commandeer public transport on the orders of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. A similar course may be called for the in case of the ongoing rail strike as well. A firm hand is needed if the public anger is not to spillover. Besides, strikes which have reached saturation point today are not the best recipe to attract foreign investors. Most blame late President J. R. Jayewardene for dealing harshly with the July 1980 strikers. But had he not acted the way he did there would not have been Free Trade Zones and other mega foreign investment projects that generated massive employment and kick started the nascent market economy.

A clear message was sent that the Government would not tolerate industrial unrest. Similarly, this Government too ought to devise strategies to meet wildcat strikes, however unpopular they may be. For, what is at stake is the public well being no less. After all the Government is answerable to the public and is duty bound to act in the public interest.


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