Protests by millionaires who dodge taxes - Sunanda Madduma Bandara | Sunday Observer

Protests by millionaires who dodge taxes - Sunanda Madduma Bandara

5 March, 2023

This article is based in an interview conducted with Sunanda Madduma Bandara, former Senior Professor of the Department of Economics, University of Kelaniya, by Subadra Desahpriya

“Preparations were made at various Government institutions on March 1 to conduct a one-day token strike. The announcement came at a time when final discussions were ongoing to obtain the first loan installment (out of US$ 2.9 billion) from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Government is in fact prepared to sign the relevant agreement for the IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) within this month. However, the trade unions have now announced a more severe non-stop strike action on March 8.

When observing the strike announced by the trade unions, its aim becomes clear. The trade union leaders of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) quite victoriously announced they were able to stop eight ships arriving at the Colombo Port on March 1, causing a very significant revenue loss to the country. Therefore, their intention is clearly to bring all these Government institutions to a halt and cause a significant revenue loss to the Government. It seemed they were highly thrilled by their actions despite the massive loss caused to the country and the public.


While trade unions fight for the rights of the people they are also responsible to the people and the country. However, these leaders appear to forget this responsibility and only seek to work according to their political agendas while sacrificing their members in the process and sabotage their own organisations in a very organised manner.

While the country is now facing some dark times, the trade unions appear to be working in a manner that would lead the country down an even more disastrous path.

Therefore, several important facts overlooked by most that must be highlighted here. Though trade unions called it a token strike, many workers did not join in per se. Instead, they pretended to strike under the cover of engaging in go-slow actions, reporting in sick, or carrying out protests in support of the strike. Therefore, there was no official strike on the day but technically they did stay away from their duties. Sunanda Madduma Bandara.

The Government said claims that taxes had to be hiked according to the IMF proposals and this is a rescue mission of the country. It has said while tax relief is not possible now, it is open to discussions when the economy improves. The IMF has agreed and said though painful, an increase in income taxes is important at this juncture.


The Government is levying taxes only on those earning above Rs. 100,000 a month. They earn over Rs. 1 million annually. In other words they are millionaires. Therefore, who else should the Government levy taxes on if not for this group? Therefore, the March 8 strike action is to safeguard the millionaires of this country from the proposed taxes.

Among those engaging in these strike actions are clearly those who do not earn over Rs. 100,000 per month. For example, only a handful of teachers earn above Rs. 1.2 million a year but the rest also showed up to work wearing black in protest of the new tax regime. The trade union leaders merely sought to use them as weapons in their anti-Government protests.

It was also evident that certain trade union leaders seemed unaware of the damage they were causing to their profession and organisations. While bank staff called in sick, the trade union leaders sought to cause significant damage to the country and people through this. But they were ignorant that they now work in a sector that is immensely supported through technology and allowed customers to use Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Cash Deposit Machines (CDMs) and other digital methods to conduct their transitions despite the strike. It is reported similarly the work in the SLPA also continued unhindered on the day.

Meanwhile, on March 1, as these trade unions protested the Cabinet of Ministers decided to allow State organisations to open accounts with private banks, breaking the monopoly previously held by the State sector banks.


It is also notable that many organisations that joined in the protest are those lambasted by the people for not carrying out their duties such as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Sri Lanka Railways (SLR). Therefore, these strike action would only heighten the calls for the privatisation of such entities.

Due to the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, countries across the world are facing numerous issues. For example Pakistan is also attempting to obtain IMF support to the tune of around US$ 7 billion but has not succeeded yet. However, trade unions and other organisations there are supporting the Pakistani Government in its efforts.

But in Sri Lanka the trade unions are blocking the Government’s efforts to obtain IMF support and attempting to bring the economy to a halt. Their only aim is to achieve their political agendas and not the betterment of the country or the people. The Government passed the Essential Services (ES) Act in 1979 to ensure the maintenance of Essential Services in the country. It is an offense punishable with imprisonment or fine or both if the employees of the establishments declared as Essential Services under this Act go on strike.

Also incitement to not work is a punishable offence. The Act allows for the confiscation of the property of strikers and also allows for the relevant trade union(s) to be deregistered. Many of the establishments preparing for a continuous strike from March 8 have already been declared as Essential Services.

The public cannot be forced to face strikes every single day. It is necessary to restore the country and at least get back to the previous state, get rid of economic difficulties, maintain the lives of the people in a good way and make the future of their children successful. Therefore, these union leaders should not forget that there is a possibility that the public will force the Government to somehow put an end to the ongoing protests and strikes. It is the responsibility of the trade union leaders to prevent another unfortunate situation like the July 1980 strike from taking place in the country yet again. More than 40,000 Public Sector workers lost their jobs in that unfortunate turn of events.”