Sri Lanka govt talks with teacher trade unions end with no final decision: officials

ECONOMYNEXT – A crucial round of talks between a Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapalsa-led group of ministers and school teacher trade unions who have been on strike for more than three months over salary anomalies ended without a final decision on Tuesday (12), officials said, while a trade union leader said the unions have not decided to stop the ongoing strike.

School teachers and principals have been on loggerheads with the government demanding a solution to salary issues that have plagued the service for decades. The strike has effectively ended online education for school students who have had to rely on distant learning for much of 2021 due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Tuesday’s meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Rajapaksa and held with representatives of all trade unions related to teachers and principals, sought to to bring the strike to an end before starting some schools on October 21.

“The discussion went positively and most of the trade unions understood the situation,” Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told EconomyNext.

“We explained clearly that it is difficult to provide the salary increase at once, but we will give it in installments, with the first installment to be in the 2022 budget with 34 billion rupees. We also agreed to reduce the number of installments.

“Except a few trade unions, others were in agreement. But they said they will announce their decision tomorrow,” he said.

However, a trade union leader said there was no agreement reached on the proposal from the government side to give the salary increase in two stages, even though the cabinet decision was to give it in another three stages.

“According to the proposal, they said one third of the salary increase will be given from next January, while the remaining two-third’s increment will be given in 2023,” Ceylon Teachers Union Secretary Joseph Stalin told EconomyNext.

“We did not give our response in the meeting, but we hope to discuss it with the unions tomorrow and give our response after that. We have also not made a decision to stop our ongoing strike yet. Everything will be decided tomorrow after we have our meeting.”

Sri Lanka has decided to reopen some 5,000 schools with a maximum of 200 students each over the next two to three weeks amid the continued strike.

The government had expected the strike could be ended before October 21, said Minister Gunawardena.

He had previously declared school teachers’ and principals’ services as a “closed service” on August 31.

Both teachers’ and principals’ services are under the public service. But declaring them a closed service will allow the government to treat teachers and principals separately from the rest of the public service when resolving their demands of salary anomalies, wages, transfers, and other benefits.

This will also mean that cadres from the teachers and principals services cannot be transferred to any other public services.

The government earlier announced a special allowance of 5,000 rupees for teachers and principals who will be on duty during September and October 2021, the months in which the government had planned to hold GCE Advanced Level and grade 5 scholarship examinations.

The education ministry had postponed the two key exams, drawing public criticism. (Colombo/Oct12/2021)

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