The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA, has long remained the conscience of this nation in relation to the education and higher education sectors, while taking a broad leadership role in fearlessly campaigning for equity and social justice throughout. Hence, it is with fear and frustration that we note the even greater depths this country is being plunged into by the waste and mismanagement that is only succeeding in exacerbating the current economic and political crisis.
To be specific, in a context where government spending on education will reach an all-time low in relation to GDP in 2023, making Sri Lanka the worst-affected country in South Asia by a wide margin, the proposed arbitrary and unfair income tax increases have caused apprehension and disgust among all those engaged in the education sector. For FUTA, an organisation that has been agitating for over a decade to increase government funding of education, health and other basic rights, this portends catastrophic consequences for all citizens alike.
While the other battles need to be fought in the medium and longer term, the major current aspect of the crisis is the ill-thought and unconscionable new Income Tax Act which imposes drastic changes to personal income tax through a mandatory Advance Personal Income Tax (APIT) payment, over and above huge increases levied on the public in the form of indirect taxes. Our concern here goes beyond the gross injustice to university academic staff and covers the broader negative repercussions to all sectors of society as well as the economy in general. Hence, this government has compelled us to consider trade union action of a kind we would never have decided upon in normal circumstances, but for the need to prevent this grossly unfair and arbitrary taxes on income and expenditure, again, as in the case of the education budget, without precedent in the region.
Therefore, it is with deep regret that the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations has instructed its members to withdraw their participation in the GCE (A/L) 2023 Evaluation Process. While we are aware that this choice may raise serious concerns in the public, we are confident that the Government will be forced to see the light as a result of our awareness-raising and public agitation on the iniquitous and catastrophic tax law, revoking its worst provisions and revising on the basis of enlightened principles, so that we may take part in the examination and evaluation process without interruption. Moreover, even if the evaluation process were to be delayed, we are aware that no new students will be admitted to the state university system at present due to an acute lack of funding. Consequently, at this crucial juncture it is crucial that we keep up the fight for fair living standards for the populace and sufficient funding for our educational system.
Our decision to boycott the GCE (AL) evaluation was not made lightly, but it shows how far we are willing to go to defend our rights and ensure that the country is on the right path to recovery. In doing so, we are not only safeguarding our economic rights and livelihoods, but also protecting the future of our students, who stand to be adversely affected by a sudden change in the evaluation process.
Please be informed that university academics will not participate in the GCE (A/L) Examination evaluation process this year, which was a difficult decision that was overwhelmingly supported by all academic members of the state university system, as there was no alternative to convey a clear and unequivocal message to the Government to stop its destruction of this country through this proposed pernicious taxation. We were forced to make this decision because the regime is unwilling to negotiate with us or address our demands; this means that the Government should bear full responsibility for any repercussions that may arise, as a legitimate trade union response to an illegitimate government’s refusal to listen to carefully reasoned clearly-expressed academics’ objections to these unreasonable and discriminatory tax hikes, which actually amount to salary reductions of university academic staff.