Railway strike to continue until demands are met

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

Commuters coped with another day of disrupted train services as railway unions insisted they would not back down from the strike until their demands are met.

Several railway trade unions launched a strike on Wednesday (07) evening without prior notice against the latest Cabinet decision to suspend the Cabinet paper proposing a rectification of railway workers’ salary anomalies. Trade unions representing engine drivers, guards, controllers, and station masters are engaged in the strike.

Thousands of commuters were left stranded, which resulted in a tense situation since the train services were cancelled without prior notice at the Colombo Fort and Maradana Railway Stations. The Police Special Task Force (STF) and Anti-Riot Squad have been deployed at the Fort Railway Station to control the situation.

Railway trade unions claimed that they were forced to launch the strike as Ministers Sarath Amunugama and Rajitha Senaratne failed to deliver on promises agreed upon during previous discussions to resolve salary anomalies.

The Locomotive Engineering Operators’ Union (LEOU) Secretary Indika Dodangoda told The Morning that the Government had not yet requested them to participate in a discussion to resolve the matter and therefore, they would continue the strike until the demands were met.

Referring to the tense situation which occurred at the Colombo Fort Railway Station and Maradana on Wednesday, Dodangoda said that even though they were on strike, they had planned to operate several trains. However, due to the escalating situation on Wednesday night, they couldn’t even operate a single train.

He stated that the Secretary of the Transport Ministry had informed the railway unions that the approved cabinet paper had been called off by the President Maithripala Sirisena at the request of the Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Meanwhile, the Department of Railways Additional General Manager Wijeya Samarasinghe said that the railway commuters’ season tickets were valid to travel on Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) buses due to the strike.

“All retired railway engine drivers have been requested to report at the Railway Headquarters by 6 a.m. today (09),” Samarasinghe said.

He also requested the commuters not to damage public property and that legal action would be taken against those who damage them.

On Wednesday, a few enraged commuters were seen causing minor damages to the Fort Railway Station property.

The SLTB Chairman Ramal Siriwardene said the leave of all SLTB workers had been cancelled until the train strike ended. He said the decision was taken so as not to inconvenience students sitting for the A/L examination.