09/27/2021, 18.31
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Sri Lankan bishops call on the government to listen to teachers and end school lockdown

by Melani Manel Perera

For more than two months, teachers have been on strike demanding the government increase their salaries. Distance learning has also stopped in a country still struggling with COVID-19. Catholic bishops want political leaders to get children back into schools.

Colombo (Asia News) – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL) is backing teachers and principals who have been on strike for over two months demanding a fair salary and an end to a number of anomalies and delays in salary payment.

The CBCSL is urging the government to focus on the problems teachers and principals face and listen to them after 20 years of neglect. The bishops call on political leaders to take immediate action to provide adequate solutions to strikers’ demands.

For the past 78 days, Sri Lankan teachers and school principals have been engaged in labour action for higher wages. For many years, their salaries have been among the lowest in Asia.

More than 260,000 teachers and principals are involved in the strike, and have taken part in several protests, such refusing to take part in online classes, taking part in street protests, and refusing to release exam results.

In its statement, the CBCSL stresses that "teachers cannot stand on the street to get their paycheques,” and urges the authorities to do everything possible to ensure that children can return to class as soon as possible.

“We are not asking the government to pay us right now,” said a Catholic music teacher in Balangoda, Sabaragamuwa province, speaking to AsiaNews.

“We know that due to a weak economy this government cannot pay us now. We are willing to receive the arrears later, but we need an immediate and proper official response from the government. We do not believe in other things.”

The controversy regarding educators’ salary comes on top of the problems of distance learning after a whole year of school lockdown because of the epidemic.

Over this period, the government, including Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, remained essentially silent, leaving teachers and principals to take independent action vis-à-vis distance learning.

Protests were held across the island in July and only stopped in August due to the spread of the Delta variant of SARS‑CoV‑2, the cause of COVID-19, which led to yet another lockdown, one that is still ongoing.

However, the strike continues on digital platforms. Today the Teacher-Principal Trade Union Alliance held a briefing online.

“The government is working to suppress our struggle,” said Alliance President Joseph Starline. “We were arrested and sent to quarantine. Various attempts are being made not to solve the problem but to suppress us,” he added.

“The latest move by the government is to convince people to allow school to reopen making them believe that the solution is in the next budget. But we are not fooled by such stories." Instead, “we shall further expand our struggle.”

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