Trade unions demand their pound of flesh | Sunday Observer

Trade unions demand their pound of flesh

19 March, 2023
President Ranil Wickremesinghe  at the presentation of several motorcycles assembled in Sri Lanka with the support of the Bank of Ceylon,  to the Presidential Secretariat
President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the presentation of several motorcycles assembled in Sri Lanka with the support of the Bank of Ceylon, to the Presidential Secretariat

The US$ 2.9 billion credit facility requested from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is due to be approved on March 20. Five days before that, Government workers went on a strike. Before the trade union action, President Ranil Wickremesinghe met the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) and several trade unions to resolve the issue through negotiations.

Apart from President Wickremesinghe, the President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka, President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake and President’s Director General of Trade Unions Saman Ratnapriya also met the trade union leaders separately to resolve the issue without going for a strike.

However, the Government was also ready to face the strike as trade unions kept demanding their pound of flesh. The decisive date was on March 15. The President reserved most of Monday to discuss matters with the strikers.

The discussions with the GMOA ended positively. After talks with the President, the GMOA which held another discussion with the President’s Secretary had informed him that they needed a letter from the President regarding the matters discussed. The President’s Secretary and Senior Advisor to the President on Economic Affairs Dr. R.H. Samaratunga also attended the second discussion.

The President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka also discussed with bank representatives, trade union leaders and many medical professionals on the President’s instructions. However, he said that he was tired of repeating the same points over and over again. “Couldn’t I tape my speech and send it to these people? My mouth hurts when I have to repeatedly explain the tax revision,” he said to the consternation of officials. However, an officer who was present said the Chief of Staff was able to convince the trade union representatives.

On Monday evening, the President instructed his Secretary Saman Ekanayake to declare the postal service as an essential service. MP Wajira Abeywardena who was there immediately recalled some clauses of the Essential Services Act for future preparations. “According to this act, the property of those who violate essential service orders can be confiscated,” Wajira said. But the President only nodded his head and said nothing.

Bar Association awards ceremony

On Monday, March 13 evening, the President went to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel for the awards ceremony organised by the Sri Lanka Bar Association for lawyers who completed 50 years in the legal field.

Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya was also present and they were contemporaries of the Law College and the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo. Although the Bar Association proposed to nominate the President as the chief guest, the President had informed that the Chief Justice should be the chief guest as he (President Wickremesinghe) too is an award recipient.

A senior member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, MP W.D.J. Senaviratne also received an award and the President received his award from his classmate Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya. The President received the award as the ninth lawyer in the 50th anniversary award list. But he received a louder applause than the other award recipients that thundered throughout the entire hall.

President Wickremesinghe, who also attended the dinner held following the award ceremony, did not forget to visit his old friends for a chat. The President approached Sohan Weerasinghe, who is a lawyer as well as a popular singer, and congratulated him for his 50 years in the legal profession. The President also invited him to sing a song. Sohan who accepted the President’s invitation wholeheartedly, sang Vijaya Kumaratunga’s Rallen Rallata in the midst of cheers. The President also applauded and enjoyed the song along with others. He stayed there until almost midnight, reminiscing with old colleagues.

The President did not forget to congratulate Chinese President Xi Jinping who was elected for the third term.

On Tuesday, March 14, President Wickremesinghe, Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka, President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake and others held successful negotiations with trade union representatives and many unions stayed out of the strike. Representatives of Sinopec Group, China’s main oil supplier, met the President and others to discuss the distribution of oil in Sri Lanka. Sinopec representatives handed over the proposals regarding the productio

n, storage and distribution of petroleum to the President.

The President instructed the security chiefs to support the groups reporting to work on the day of the strike. The President instructed the President’s Secretary and others to take strict measures regarding railways and ports.

As leave had been cancelled in many establishments, the Labour Commissioner had instructed to cut the daily wages of all those who did not report to work except for an acceptable matter. On that day, the President also attended the presentation of several motorcycles assembled in Sri Lanka with the support of the Bank of Ceylon to the Presidential Secretariat.

Later the President along with Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles accepted a stock of uniforms donated by the Chinese Government to the Sri Lankan Police. The Chinese representatives promised the President and Minister Alles that they would provide the necessary support for improving the quality of the Police Service.

On the evening of the day of the strike, a group of Ministers came to the President’s Secretariat and discussed the matter with the President.

“The GMOA has decided to end the strike. They say they received a letter from the President,” MP Wajira Abeywardena said.

“They are divided. People know that they are seeking their own political and personal interest,” Minister Bandula Gunawardena said.

“The SJT and CICT of the port worked. Due to this, there was no problem in the transportation of containers. But the captains of the small ships i

n the harbour that carry the workers of the main ships had said that they cannot be taken. But we got the help of the Navy and sent the workers to the ships. So

, there was no problem,” President’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka said.

State Minister Shehan Semasinghe, joining the conversation said, “The people of JCT belonging to the Port did not work. But it didn’t make a d

ifference as big ships don’t come to this terminal.”

Minister Bandula Gunawardena said, “Lal Kantha says something and Wasantha Samarasinghe says another one. Employees should understand these things.”

Meanwhile, an official who came to the President said that there has been a request to transfer the accounts of public corp

orations and departments in People’s Bank to other banks.

“Yes, several private businessmen who spoke to me also told that story,” Wajira Abeywardena said.

The President instructed the officials to investigate and report on this immediately.

On Thursday, the President went to the Ministry of Finance to discuss economic progress. It was discussed about receiving the IMF certificate and how to proceed after that.

“The strike was not as successful as the trade unions thought. The trade unions did not get the support they expected,” State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

“Even if the port and the train drivers tried to have some influence, it was not possible because the President intervened so that it would not be a problem. It is reported that there has been a loss of more than Rs. 40 billion,” said State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.

The President also revealed the information about the People’s Bank that he got to know the day before and instructed officials to look into it. The President told the officials of the Ministry of Finance that the IMF agreement will be tabled in Parliament after the approval of the loan on March 20. The President also instructed the officials to immediately start the plans for the steps to be taken after that.

Veteran actress

It was through musician Peshala Manoj, that Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa came to know that veteran actress Susantha Chandramali was ill and in short supply of essential medicines. “Sir, if you can support sister Susanta, it would be very helpful,” Manoj told the Opposition Leader.

“Ask her what she needs and we will do whatever we can,” Premadasa said. As soon as Opposition Leader Premadasa found out what the necessary medicines were, he called the leading doctors he knew and inquired about them. After getting to know what the medicine was, Sajith began to find out where the medicines were available. After some time, he managed to find the medicines. “I found the medicine. I want to see her. Let’s go to her home,” Sajith said to Peshala.

When Sajith was about to enter her house, Susantha came to the front door and said, “This is the first time a political leader came to this house.”

Sajith spent a few hours with her and her family members. “This help is very valuable. How can I thank you sir,” Susantha Chandramali told Sajith while receiving the stock of medicine worth more than Rs. 6.3 million.

The Opposition Leader said, “There’s no need to say anything. Get well and come back to the art field.” Popular actress Damitha Abeyratne, former MP Hirunika Premachandra and several others were also present.

Meanwhile, Sajith made a proposal to Peshala who was there. “In many cases, artists do not have a strong welfare program. We will prepare a program for that.”

“That is true sir.” Damitha and Teekshana said in approval.

“Make a good plan. Let’s implement it,” Sajith said.

LG elections

The Mahanayaka Theras had sent a letter to the President asking that the postponement of the Local Government election has created some unrest among the public and therefore the election should be held. The Opposition Leader Premadasa and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) also drew their attention to it.

“We have never double-crossed people’s sovereignty. We have asked for an election from the beginning,” SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said.

“We brought it up in Parliament. We talked to the Election Commission and struggled on the streets. Not only that, we went to courts several times,” said Opposition Leader Sajith explaining his position on the election.

“Yes. Not like some people who call for elections on the stage, but as the Secretary General says, we have always stood for elections without having any double game,” MP Gayanta Karunathilaka said.

MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said, “The Government is now playing ‘eda vela tour’ games. When the people ask for an election, the Government talks about the IMF and some Government members talk about the appreciation of rupee. But we will be able to see what will really happen to the rupee in the future.”


On Thursday evening, Opposition Leader Premadasa made a revelation about a Government conspiracy to undermine the court order.

He said, “Even though the Supreme Court has given an interim order that the money allocated by the Parliament for the election should be given in the same way, the Government is trying to embarrass the judges of the Supreme Court by putting pressure on the impartial judiciary and the Independent Election Commission. Two Government Parliamentarians are obstructing the democratic electoral process by saying that the court ruling given had violated their privileges.”

The Opposition Leader said that although the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are working to safeguard the democratic system in a democratic country, as reported, the Parliamentary Privileges Committee has informed the Supreme Court in writing to give the interim order to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee. The Opposition Leader said that the Privileges Committee is exerting a direct influence on the judiciary by requesting the interim order of the Supreme Court and it undermines the interim order given by the court.

Opposition Leader Premadasa said that if the Parliament points fingers at the judiciary due to the influence of the Executive in the Legislature, it will cause a complete collapse of the democratic structure of the country and it will have a serious impact on the democratic structure in the country.