Port unions end strike after compromise on ECT

Saturday, 4 July 2020 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Following talks with PM, Govt. green-lights unloading Gantry Cranes 
  • Unions want cranes to be assembled to allow SLPA to operate ECT 
  • MR tells unions agreements signed by former Govt. with Japan and India for ECT need to be examined for legal ramifications 
  • Pledges to discuss issue with Cabinet and take action

By Asiri Fernando

Twenty-three trade unions linked to the Colombo Port called off their strike over the East Container Terminal (ETC) and “work to rule” action yesterday following a meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Hambantota, and a compromise agreement to unload the Gantry Cranes.   

The core demand of the trade unions which began their strike earlier this week has been met as the Government authorised the unloading of the three Gantry Cranes ordered for the ECT after the meeting with between the unions and the Prime Minister in Hambantota yesterday morning. One of the three Gantry Cranes were unloaded at the ECT last evening, Daily FT learns. 

“Our core demand was to have the three Gantry Cranes unloaded and that was authorised by the Prime Minister,” JVP Trade Union activist and Progressive Workers Association for Commercial Industry and Services (PWACIS) Secretary Shamal Sumanarathna told the Daily FT. According to Sumanarathna, the PM had promised to submit a Cabinet Paper on the trade unions demands and requests and discuss the issues with the Cabinet. 

The trade unions now want the Chinese company who built and transported the cranes to Colombo Port to assemble them and eventually allow the SLPA to operate them, essentially crowding out any other entity for the running of the ECT.  

“We see this as a historic win for the trade union struggle in Sri Lanka. I want to thank all the trade unions who united with the aim of protecting the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. We were confident that we could discuss these matters and reach some favourable outcome with the Prime Minister and that has happened. We look forward to what the Cabinet will do about this,” Sumanarathna opined.   

Prime Minister Rajapaksa had told the unions that the MoU signed in 2018 could be binding and the legal ramifications would have to be considered, the head of another union said.  

“We were told that the agreements regarding the ECT involved diplomatic agreements made by the previous Government and that our demands will be heard by the Cabinet. Prime Minister Rajapaksa promised to seek solutions for the questions we've raised at Cabinet level, therefore we have called off trade union action,” Sri Lanka Freedom Party Port Workers Association (SLFPPWA) Chairman Prasanna Kalutharage told Daily FT.  

Kalutharage explained that the TU wanted the Chinese contractor who is delivering the Gantry Cranes to complete their agreement by unloading and assembling the three cranes to operational level before handing over to the SLPA. The process will take about a month or a month-and-a-half, Kalutharage estimated. 

The Prime Minister's office issuing a press release said that the discussions had ended fruitfully, with permission granted for the cranes to be unloaded, but was unclear whether they would be installed. The statement also confirmed that the unions had agreed to suspend trade union action at the Colombo Port.  


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