Recurrent strikes in the public service are paralysing the day to day life of the people of Sri Lanka while jeopardising the economy of the country severely.
Central Bank (CBSL) data revealed that an overall 104,327 man-days were squandered in 41 strikes in 2016, the worst tally since 2007, as Sunday Times reported. The numbers might have further increased in 2017 and up to now in 2018.
Recent strikes in Railway Department caused severe difficulty to commuters and on 8th August, the commuter outrage was clearly visible at Colombo Fort railway station against the railway employees.
Railway engine drivers, guards, controllers and station masters launched a sudden strike on 8th August 3 p.m. making hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded for hours without trains to go home after work. The strike continued disregarding the fact that the G.C.E. Advanced Level examination is also held during this time.
The main reason for the strikes of the public employees is removing the so-called salary anomalies. The problem of salary anomalies cannot be solved because one solution may create many other problems. The services in the public sector are considered parallel to each other. The increase in salaries of engine drivers may ignite a demand from nurses who are in an entirely different service. That’s the pathetic nature of public service of Sri Lanka.
This is a deep-rooted issue and the attempts so far by the state have failed to provide a sustainable solution. Any future bureaucratic attempt too may probably fail because some trade unions may definitely say that their concerns have not been addressed.
Therefore, how can we solve this problem?
As a policy, the government must not take the responsibility of addressing the issue of salary anomalies further. The government must only facilitate a process of restructuring salary scales of the diverse services of the public sector. All recognised and duly functioning trade unions must be convened and a democratic dialogue must be initiated on restructuring the salary scales. The government may provide technical assistance and financial support for this. International organizations like UN can also involve in capacity building and policy development.
The trade union leaders who have been already released from work with pay for trade union activities must take the lead for this. A timeframe must also be decided.