Port Trade Unions to meet President over ECT

Saturday, 25 July 2020 00:16 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • String of protests continue with march to Presidential Secretariat 
  • Unions continue to demand ECT be handed to SLPA not India

By Asiri Fernando

Twenty-three port services related trade unions are awaiting a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to discuss the fate of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port, following a protest march yesterday to the Presidential Secretariat.  

Dozens of trade union representatives carrying black flags marched to the Presidential Secretariat from Colombo Port, to hand over a letter detailing their requests regarding the ECT.  The unions call for three gantry cranes which were ordered for the ECT to be operationalised, and for the terminal to be put in control of the SLPA and not India. 

The unions claimed that the Government was in danger of caving into pressure from India, and were trying to backtrack on an election manifesto promise that said all international agreements will be revisited, and State assets would not be handed over to foreign companies. Earlier this month, 23 trade unions linked to the Colombo Port went on strike when the three cranes arrived in port but was not allowed to be unloaded.  

The Unions called off their strike over the ECT and “work to rule” action on 4 July following a meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Hambantota, which ended in a compromise agreement to unload the gantry cranes. The cranes are now unloaded and fixed but remain un-operational. 

"We look forward to the meeting with the President. However, if there is no result, we will continue with our trade union action. This terminal should belong to Sri Lanka and its future generations," Sri Lanka Freedom Party Port Workers Association (SLFPPWA) Chairman Prasanna Kalutharage told Daily FT.  

After the initial protests earlier this month, the President also appointed a committee to look into the issues of both the ECT and State-run Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) and make recommendations within 45 days. 

In May 2019, the former Government entered into a tri-partite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Japan and India to build the ECT. Under that agreement Japan was to provide a loan of $ 500 million and India was to do the construction. 

The agreement was signed during the tenure of former Ports Minister Sagala Ratnayaka. However, former Ports Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who held the portfolio before Ratnayaka, and former President Maithripala Sirisena had earlier promised the SLPA trade unions that the ECT will be built and operated by the SLPA. 

The unions contend that if the ECT is given to a foreign company, then the SLPA will not have a deep water terminal capable of berthing large ships, and will eventually lose out to the other two privately operated terminals. 

Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) is currently operated by a Chinese company and the South Asia Gateway Terminal is run by conglomerate John Keells Holdings. Jaya Container Terminal, which is the oldest of the three terminals currently under operation, is not deep enough to compete with the other two terminals. Shipping experts have long warned that the much delayed ECT was urgently needed to keep the Colombo Port competitive and continue its hub status in South Asia. But efforts to make it operational since 2015 have largely failed to take off. 

Pic by Lasantha Kumara