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Govt incurs massive man hour and economic loss in strikes and protests

Colombo (LNW): Sri Lanka has undergone massive economic and man hour loss along with unprecedented social and economic activity disruption hindering the government’s economy building initiatives following the protest demonstrations, strikes and picketing campaigns of trade unions and university students.

They were demanding the reversal of the government revenue enhancing measures, cost of living and unavoidable price hike.  

Half a million workers from across Sri Lanka’s public and private sectors joined strikes and protests recently in opposition to the International Monetary Fund measures being imposed by the government.

The measures include a pay as you earn (PAYE) tax on workers’ salaries, increased interest rates on bank loans, cuts in overtime payments, privatisations and tens of thousands of state-sector job cuts.

As a result of these protest campaigns the country has incurred a massive economic loss of billions of rupees and it has lost over 8 million man hours in two days of strike and protest demonstrations. 

The damage caused to the public property by demonstrators is still to be assessed, official sources claimed.

According to a government survey, 44,540 public servants out of 148,451 in Sri Lanka’s six provinces walked out on strike on Wednesday. 

This included 36 percent in the northwest, 40 percent in north central, 49 percent in the south, 25 percent in central, 21 percent in the east, and 19 percent in Uva.

The survey also revealed widespread participation by government doctors across all provinces. 

This included 914 out of 1,322 in the northwest, 434 out of 690 in north central, 1,547 out of 2,472 in the central province, 942 out of 1,339 in the south, 454 out of 1,338 in the east, and 730 out of 918 in Uva.

Those participating included workers from the petroleum, electricity, water supply, port, banking, health care, postal, railway, school and university sectors. 

The industrial action, in defiance of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s strike-breaking Essential Public Services Act, included full- and half-day strikes, sick-leave campaigns, “go slows,” lunch-time pickets and other protests. 

In the wake of Sri Lankans about to see a light at the end of the dark tunnel following first sign of purported economic recovery as a result of the unlocking of US $2.9 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout loan by March 20, the country’s progress is to be disrupted by ongoing strikes and protest campaigns, authorities alleged.

Trade unions and university student unions along with Buddhist priests have intensified their protest campaigns and strikes at work places, soon to be calling in a total ‘lockdown’. 

As of March 9-10, labour unions plan to launch a series of strikes in the coming days to protest against the IMF-backed tax regime and other government revenue collection initiatives, in what the authorities claim as “a disruption against the country’s recovery from economic abyss.”

Members of the Federation of University Teachers Association initiated an indefinite strike on March 9. Additional unions will join the action in the coming days till March16, organisers announced.

Widespread disruptions are likely in the impacted sectors from March 13. The impact of the strikes will likely escalate from March 15.

While activists have not announced any plans for demonstrations, strike participants may hold protests in the coming days.

Authorities will likely deploy additional security in and around potential protest sites, including prominent government buildings, public squares, and roadways. Police may disperse crowds if gatherings are interpreted to be ‘disruptive.’

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