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Sarath Weerasekera and teachers on collision course

a year ago

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  • Teachers’ unions announce over 300 protests this week
  • Public Security Minister promises harsh measures against union actions
By Buddhika Samaraweera Despite threats of harsh measures against public trade union protests made by Public Security Minister Dr. Sarath Weerasekera last Saturday (2), the teachers’ and principals’ trade unions have decided to hold 312 protests islandwide on 6 October. On Saturday, Minister Weerasekera warned that harsh measures will be taken against trade unions or other groups who protest while the country remains open during the pandemic period. “When the economy has been affected and the country remains open during a pandemic, if trade unions, or any group, stages strikes and protests, I will have to take harsh measures against them as the Minister of law and order for the wellbeing of the people. This will be done for the benefit of everyone,” he said. The Minister also said that if another Covid-19 wave occurs due to public gatherings, the country will face a serious problem. However, speaking at a media briefing yesterday (3), the Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union (CTSU) General Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe stated that 312 protests are planned to be held on the occasion of International Teachers’ Day, with one protest in each education division of the country. “International Teachers’ Day falls on 6 October, and we have decided to hold a series of protests across the country on the same day. These protests will be held in all 312 education divisions in the country, and in accordance with Covid-19-related health guidelines,” he said. Nearly 30 teachers’ and principals’ trade unions have embarked on a number of trade union actions, including withdrawal from all physical and online teaching activities and examination-related duties, demanding a solution to their issues, including the teacher-principal salary anomaly issue, since 12 July 2021. Referring to the Minister’s warning of tough measures, Ceylon Teachers’ Union Secretary Joseph Stalin challenged the Government to present these “tough measures” in the presence of the visiting European Union delegation, in the country to assess the future of the GSP+ facility granted to Sri Lanka. “He now stated that this Government is acting in a soft stance, and therefore tough decisions should be taken. We’d like to ask what those tough action decisions are. He is doing this when a group of delegates, representing the European Parliament, are in this country. We ask him to reveal what he proposed to the Cabinet as well,” Stalin said. Jayasinghe further stated that if the Government does not take immediate action to resolve their issues, such protests will continue throughout the country even after 6 October, adding that not only teachers and principals, but also parents are expected to participate in them. “It has been 84 days since we initiated the ongoing trade union actions to find a solution to our issues. However, the Government has still failed to provide a solution. Also, the Government is trying to suppress this trade union action through various means. However, all we have to say is that if an acceptable solution is provided, we will abandon these actions the next day. If not, we will take this struggle forward without any fear,” he said. In September, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP Jagath Kumara Sumithraarachchi claimed that Weerasekera’s actions with regard to how the teachers’ and principals’ trade union protest actions were dealt with had contributed to the intensification of the ongoing teachers’ and principals’ trade union strike actions. “It was Weerasekera’s actions that led to the intensification of teachers’ trade union actions to this level. Had he not been the Minister in charge of the Police, it would have come to an end by now,” stated Sumithraarachchi. Speaking at a recent media briefing, he claimed that the aforesaid trade union actions had intensified after the Police forcibly took away a group including teachers during a recent protest in Colombo, after which they were directed to quarantine. “It was because the Police acted in that way during the protest that there was a great deal of sympathy in the community for the teachers’ trade union actions,” he further claimed.

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