03/01/2023, 18.04
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Countrywide strike against new government taxes

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

President Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to stop labour action by labelling transport services as essential. Some analysts believe work stoppage failed because many employees went to work for fear of losing their job. Trade unions now threaten a broader strike, affecting all sectors.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Several trade unions (TUs) representing mostly power, petroleum, water and ports sectors held a one-day strike today across Sri Lanka.

Unions represent workers employed by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), Postal Services, the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA), and the Ceylon Teachers' Union (CTU).

Several academics and many government bank employees joined the work stoppage to protest rising electricity fees and income taxes, part of the measures imposed to get a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Some analysts view the strike as a failure since many employees reported to work anyway.

On Monday, President Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to stop the planned strike by signing a decree declaring several services as essential, like ports, airports, passenger transport, including the provision and maintenance of facilities.

Some public and para-public employees showed up for work wearing black clothes and bands.

“Colombo Port has launched a massive 24-hour work to rule campaign from 7.00 am today with the participation of 9,000 employees representing 40 trade unions,” said Samantha Jayaratna, Gunapala Karunaratna and Udaya de Silva, representing the Colombo port unions.

“Hence, loading and unloading of goods in eight ships halted”, but “Today was a one-day match, but if the government doesn’t withdraw the tax reduction, it will be a test match starting on March 8,” they emphasised ironically.

It is estimated that the government lost billions of rupees in revenue due to the disruption of activities at the port of Colombo.

At some public sector banks, notices were displayed, indicating that they were on strike today, while several shops in Colombo and Gampaha districts were closed.

Some public sector employees spoke to AsiaNews about the situation. “We are on sick leave today as decided by our TU leaders,” said Nadeesha Sandaruwani, Sampath Alagiyawanne and Ranjith Colonne.

“The government might take drastic action against us, but how can we work today when almost all employees are on strike? In certain offices, there is a work-to-rule campaign. Currently, we struggle to live with our meagre salary, so how can we live, if we lose our jobs?”

For Ranjan Jayalal, Trade Union Alliance convenor, “There was no point in issuing an emergency gazette notification, stating that the services of the above sectors were essential as these services were essential” already.

“As long as the government does not listen to us and attempts to stop the TU action, we will break the law," he explained.

Sources in the unions representing workers at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the Ceylon Electricity Board added that, “If something happened to fuel distribution and power supply, the government should take full responsibility.”

“Employees will carry out breakdown services and manage power stations for only one hour today and will go for more stringent strike action next week, if the government does not reverse its arbitrary tax policies,” warned Jagath Wijegunawardana, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation union convenor.

Otherwise, he added, “We will go for a wider general strike with the participation of all citizens. Sometimes, the entire country may come to a standstill with next week’s strike.”

According to some economic analysts, today’s strike failed, falling short of expectations; in many areas, schools were open as usual despite a drop in student attendance.

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