Politics and Trade Unions | Daily News

Politics and Trade Unions

Although pretty obvious, the Government has decided to expose the political nature of the ongoing serial work stoppages and demonstrations sweeping the country, demanding wage increases and other solutions to alleged grievances of sections of public servants. The public, who may not be privy to all the facts in hand, should be made aware of the machinations of trade unions and the issues in question.

Strikes have now become the first option for most trade unions, with no thought given to the process of negotiations. They usually go into negotiations with preconceived notions, determined to scuttle them. This is another indication that a strike may have an unseen political hand behind it. But this should not be the case. A strike should be the last resort of any trade union.

Hardly had the disabled soldiers and the Administrative Service officers called off their protests and strike campaigns when another group of so called aggrieved public servants joined the ranks of the agitators yesterday morning. A long line of white clad females of advanced age, said to be former employees of a powerloom factory shut down in 1982, were seen marching towards the Presidential Secretariat demanding pensions and other redress. The GMOA was also at it again last week and the teachers too launched a similar action, which has since ended.

Looks like there is going to be no end to this phenomenon with more and more protests adding to an already crowded field and adding to the din. Even those on the fringes of the mainstream workforce have become bold enough to come out in the open to stake their claims for redress. It is not difficult to discern the political motivations behind some of the strikes and protest campaigns.

It was perhaps in this context that the Cabinet of Ministers had decided to launch an awareness campaign to educate the public on the politically motivated strikes launched by certain trade unions in a scenario where wages hikes ranging from 200% to 300% had been granted to some sections of Government servants in recent times, to quote Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne.

Nonetheless some unions have taken to the streets over some minor discrepancy clearly demonstrating that a political hand was guiding the strikers. Addressing the 84th annual meeting of the Public Health Inspectors’ Union on Saturday, the Minister said when he met the Executive Officers Association and looked at the salary increments they had received it appeared that all Government servants had received a salary increment of 107% under the present Government. He said the Government would soon decide what to do about these strikes.

It is time some tough action is taken. The spate of strikes in the State sector, needless to say, is bleeding the country’s economy and driving away foreign investors not to mention other adverse consequences. The railway strike is causing a loss of Rs. 17 million a day to the Government and the strike has entered its seventh day with locomotive operatives, who, according to State Minister Ashok Abeysinghe, pocket a take home pay ranging from Rs. 150,000 to 300,000 a month demanding more. The relevant pay sheets should be shown on television for the public to judge whether these employees need an urgent salary revision.

With the country on the cusp of a crucial Presidential election that is being fought for high stakes with all the candidates ardently wooing all sectors and all comers what better time to strike (pun intended) than when the iron is hot? Hence, the need for some drastic action lest the country plunge into an economic abyss.

Industrial peace is essential for a country to prosper. If the relations between employer and employee are unsatisfactory in a given organisation, there will be no progress for either party. This goes for both State-owned and private sector enterprises. This relationship is facilitated by the unions, an essential and integral part of the work landscape in many democracies. After all, not every employee can gain access to the top management and relevant ministers. This is where the unions come in, representing the voice of the workers.

Flexibility is the key to resolving many trade unions disputes. There should be a little bit of give and take by both the management and unions to reach a middle ground. However, if a strike is the first option, the striking workers and their trade unions cannot expect the Government to bow down to their demands at the first opportunity. This Government has given the unions enough freedom, unlike in the recent past when white vans were reserved for their leaders. It is time to act sensibly to make workers truly victorious - when they genuinely need redress, and not as pawns of politicians.


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