Strike ‘100% successful’, claim teachers’ TUs

  • TUs demand CTU Secy Stalin’s release, online facilities, KNDU Bill revocation

BY Buddhika Samaraweera AND Dinitha Rathnayake 

Teachers’ trade unions (TUs) have claimed that trade union action launched by teachers and principals yesterday (12) in protest over the Government’s actions last week was 100% successful.

More than 15 teachers’ and principals’ trade unions had decided to withdraw from all online teaching activities from yesterday until further notice in protest of the arrest and subsequent forced quarantine of a group of trade unionists and student activists during a recent protest in Colombo. Among the arrestees was Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) Secretary Joseph Stalin.

Commenting on the progress of the trade union action, Ceylon Teachers’ Services Union (CTSU) Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe, when contacted by The Morning, said that all teachers’ and principals’ unions were supporting the trade union action. He claimed that the trade union action was 100% successful as of yesterday and that it would continue until their demands are met.

“Our first demand is for the release of Stalin and others who were arbitrarily arrested and sent to a quarantine centre without the recommendation of any health official. In addition, we request that principals, teachers, and students be provided with the facilities to carry out online teaching and learning activities and that the proposed General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill be revoked,” he noted.

CTU President Priyantha Fernando also told The Morning that the trade union action launched by the teachers and principals yesterday by withdrawing from online teaching activities was “very successful”.

He added that in addition to online teaching activities, the teachers and principals had withdrawn from duties related to sending applications for examinations including the GCE Advanced Level (A/L) examination online.

Teachers and principals had also withdrawn from teaching activities at regional learning centres which were recently established by the Ministry of Education with the aim of facilitating students who find it difficult to pursue their education online. There are about 2,160 regional learning centres that employ nearly 30,000 teachers and principals, and the teachers and principals had withdrawn from those duties too.

On 8 July, the Police had arrested a total of 31 suspects for allegedly staging a protest at the Polduwa Roundabout in violation of Covid-19 health regulations. The Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF), the CTU, and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) had organised the demonstration against the proposed KNDU Bill. Stalin, IUSF Convener Ven. Rathkarawwe Jinarathana Thera, another Buddhist monk, and two women were also among the arrestees.

The arrestees were produced before the Colombo Magistrate’s Court under the provisions of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance, and the suspects were released on a personal bail of Rs. 25,000 each by the Colombo Additional Magistrate on the evening of 8 July.

A tense situation had also been reported in front of the Colombo Magistrate’s Court as Stalin and the 32 others who were released on bail had refused to undergo quarantine, and the Police, however, had taken them to a quarantine centre in the Mullaitivu area.

Attempts to contact Minister of Education Prof. G.L. Peiris and Secretary to the Ministry Prof. Kapila Perera to inquire as to how the Ministry would cope with trade union action – since it, according to the trade unions, is to continue in the coming days – were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Stalin claimed yesterday (12) that higher education will be privatised through the General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill and that this would lead to the militarisation of education.

Stalin, who is currently at the Mullaitivu Air Force Base under quarantine regulations, made these claims holding a press conference yesterday with other teachers’ trade union leaders at the said base.

He claimed, however, that militarisation will be defeated together with all other parties.

The KNDU Bill has come under fire from various quarters, including the National People’s Power (NPP) and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) in the parliamentary Opposition, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA), and the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF), who have criticised aspects pertaining to both privatisation and militarisation, while also noting the lack of the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) oversight and the curtailing of political freedoms afforded to students. NPP parliamentarian and sociologist Dr. Harini Amarasuriya wrote to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa urging the scrapping of the said Bill.

However, with the Government defending and pushing through the Bill, a wave of protests has swept the country, resulting in a crackdown on such on the basis of the alleged risk posed to public health.