Making sense of strikes

Friday, 17 August 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Strikes are becoming the bane of Sri Lanka. As the country grapples with numerous strikes taking place crippling many services, the logic of holding these work stoppages and the Government response to them has become the daily bread and butter of the media.

The university lectures have been on strike for several months now, following up from the work stoppage that lasted many months last year. Thousands of people at all levels including higher study programmes such as masters that are paid for with the hard-earned money of the students are waiting for the stalemate between the dons and the Government to end.

Their lives, ambitions and future prospects have all come to a screeching halt. The university teachers have attempted to take the higher ground by pointing out that they are fighting for the free education system of this country, which while being noteworthy, nonetheless also results in denying education for those that have legitimately earned it. There are no heroes in this battle but many victims. University lectures are also deprived of their salaries and struggle to make ends meet in this battle of wills.

There have also been reports that the university lectures are contemplating abstaining from Advanced Level paper marking, which could precipitate a fresh crisis on top of the current Z-score fiasco. Given the number of mistakes revealed so far in the question papers, a fresh standoff could plunge the students into further chaos.

The strike of Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) workers that came on the top of a breakdown at Norochcholai and a prolonged drought has caused widespread havoc. The CEB has scrambled to continue power supply despite the challenges, with even former employees being drafted to run the debt-ridden enterprise. Even top CEB officials are coming forward with complaints of the Chinese funded and constructed power plant, which has evaded transparent investigation despite breaking down a record five times since it began operations.  Water processing and pumping has become the latest casualty with power cuts affecting cleaning and distribution.

Railway employees warn that they are next in line, with possible repercussions for the transport system. Doctors of the National Hospital staged a strike on Thursday over an alleged act of intimidation on a colleague. Agitation by the health sector is common, but it coming on top of so many issues has put more light on the economic cost of all these strikes.

Three years after the war, Sri Lanka is fully embroiled in fighting the economic war. Rising cost of living along with long-term salary anomalies and inadequate pay have created a tense atmosphere, which the Government has been unable to stem. Addressing all these concerns is an almost impossible task, but it should get priority given the direct impact it has on millions of people.

Providing more funding, stamping out corruption, increasing transparency and implementing sustainable solutions have been long asked from the Government. An adequate engagement system and the Government sticking to their work would also be valued to get the country back on the right track. On their part unions need to consider the effect they have on the nation rather than sticking to an “our way or the strike way” policy that is undermining multiple sectors. It is time to work together or risk more chaos.