Home / FT View/ Placate or stand firm?

Placate or stand firm?


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 20 August 2018 00:00


This week opens with the Government staring down the barrel of a second possible train strike with powerful railway trade unions unless their salary demands are met by Thursday. The hefty increases, which the Finance Ministry has battled against on the basis that it would result in a salary hike for 24 grades of the public service and was therefore untenable as it would push up public expenditure and trigger inflation, are likely to test the mettle of the Government and put pressure on its public image.  

President Maithripala Sirisena has been the lone point of engagement with trade unions after he intervened to call off the first strike earlier this month. Contents of his discussions with union representatives have not been fully divulged to the public but shortly afterwards the Finance Ministry presented a Cabinet paper to appoint a Salaries Commission for the public sector, which was approved. The Commission has been tasked with analysing and evaluating the salary structures of the entire public service and present a report on the way forward in two months.

The task, already significantly hefty, was rejected by the railway unions that contend their demands are centered on salary increases that have already received Cabinet approval after being presented by the Transport Ministry and therefore a commission was not needed to peruse them before implementation. The unions also contend that legal provisions were included in the Cabinet paper to exclude railway services from the rest of the public sector and that any salary increase given to them does not need to extend to the other segments.

In any case a possible strike does not give sufficient time for the Salaries Commission to even be constituted much less have its proposals considered by the government. Whatever the contents of the Transport Ministry Cabinet paper the contention that railways should be given preferential treatment is an absurd one. The Ceylon Railways Department has provided significant services but it has also been marred by mismanagement, corruption and wastage in its long history. The quality of its services to the public are basic at best and while this is not only the fault of the department the idea that a chronically loss making entity deserves to be given higher pay and perks above other public services on tax payer funds is both unfair and unrealistic. 

However, the Government is also caught between a rock and a hard place. A railway strike is daunting at the best of times but a segment of buses have already pulled off the roads protesting spot fines. A railway strike on top of reduced busses would be a double whammy for the public and the Government would become the instant scapegoat facing heightened public censure for its role. 

The political backlash of such a situation could be grave as the Government heads to elections next year. But it also cannot afford to do nothing, literally, as any fiscal slippage could unleash macroeconomic instability that it can ill afford as it looks to finance growing external debt repayments over the next few years. All in all the Government may have little choice but to batten down the hatches and ready for the coming storm.


Share This Article


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

Courting democracy; Housing disaster?

Thursday, 15 November 2018

A small step was taken by a sovereign court the day before yesterday. It was a giant leap for the supremacy of the Constitution over all three arms of government in a recently benighted Sri Lanka. As well as being the tangible proof of intra-governme


Sri Lanka’s Judiciary in its finest hour

Thursday, 15 November 2018

“We must never forget that the only real source of power we as judges can tap is the respect of the people” –Justice Thurgood Marshall


When scholars turn slayers of reason

Thursday, 15 November 2018

“… I think, that the intellectual is an individual endowed with a faculty of representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public. And this role has an edge to it, and cannot be


A stable democracy is a prerequisite for the wellbeing of Sri Lankans

Thursday, 15 November 2018

In Sri Lanka, despite the complexity of overlapping policies, the slow pace in implementing economic policies has been of central concern in the past few years. The current political state in Sri Lanka poses a series of e


Columnists More