Trade unions to lay siege to Parliament on 17 May

  • Week of protests to commence today 

By Dinitha Rathnayake

The Trade Union Co-ordinating Centre and the Government Nursing Officers’ Association (GNOA) told The Morning yesterday (8) that it will engage in continuous protests from today (9) until 13 May, and lay siege to Parliament on 17 May as the House reconvenes.

“We will hold continuous protests till 13 May. A convention is planned for 11 May, where we will discuss our path forward. A protest will be held in front of the Parliament on 17 May, as the House reconvenes on that day. If they do not find solutions to the country’s problems on that day, we will also not leave,” Trade Union Co-ordinating Centre Co-Convenor Wasantha Samarasinghe told The Morning yesterday.

Speaking to The Morning, GNOA President Saman Rathnapriya said around 1,000 trade unions have declared a week of protests from today onwards and trade unions would protest in front of office premises till 17 May. 

“If the Government ignores our demands, we are planning to enter the Parliament premises on 17 May, and no one can stop us,” he said, adding that the state of emergency should be repealed.

Samarasinghe said that corruption should be investigated and the culprits brought to book.

“We demand that the Government must resign and hold space for the people’s opinion. If they do not want to hold those who are guilty of corruption accountable, then an election should be held, where the people decide who the next government will be,” Samarasinghe told The Morning yesterday.

When the House met last week, protests were held in front of Parliament, with protestors led by the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) refusing to leave the Parliament road last Thursday (5) night. Last Friday (6), the Police fired tear gas at the protest multiple times. The IUSF has stated that it will return for protests on 17 May as well.

Meanwhile, the Government imposed a state of emergency last Friday night, which has since been heavily criticised by trade unions, international bodies, and the Opposition. Thousands of shops, schools, and businesses closed on Friday as public and private sector workers in Sri Lanka went on strike while about 3,000 factory workers from Sri Lanka’s main export processing zone joined the strike.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reported that the EU said last Saturday (7) that declaring a state of emergency “could have a counterproductive effect” and noted that a month of anti-Government protests had so far been peaceful.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung said that declaring the second state of emergency in as many months “won’t help”, and the country’s deepening economic crisis and political gridlock needed long-term solutions.

“The voices of peaceful citizens need to be heard,” Chung said, adding: “And the very real challenges Sri Lankans are facing require long-term solutions to set the country back on a path toward prosperity and opportunity for all.” 

Canadian Envoy David McKinnon said Sri Lankans had a right to peaceful protest under democracy and that it was “hard to understand why it is necessary, then, to declare a state of emergency”. 

The rights group Amnesty International said protests have been peaceful and the authorities have unlawfully restricted the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.