FUTA ready for token strike on June 3



by Maheen Senanayake

"Everything is now ready for our token strike with all unions attached to the Federation of University Teachers’ Association confirming their participation on June 3," said Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri , Past President of FUTA.

"We are now ready to resume our trade union action to seek our demands", said Chandragupta Thenuwara, President, (FUTA) at a press conference held at the University of Colombo faculty centre last week. "We begin with a token strike on June 3.’’

Prof Rohan Fernando, General Secretary FUTA added "Except for the Uva Wellassa University where they did not permit the right to association and the South Eastern University where the only two trade unions are inactive, academics in every other university will take part in our symbolic strike, deemed necessary to reawaken the government to our demands.’’

The government had agreed to several issues in a joint statement released to the public by the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and FUTA which at the time was preceded by a Note to Cabinet signed by Ministers S B Dissanayake and Basil Rajapakse according to a press release by the FUTA.

FUTA and the authorities abandoned the strike action on October 12, 2012 following assurances given by Minister Basil Rajapakse, at the time 100 day long trade union action.

Among the issues the FUTA wishes to take up is the issue of salary increase of academics, increasing allocation for education, establishment

of a presidential commission to look into education reforms and appointing of a high level committee to establish a special category for university academics. FUTA also wants the government to address issues of deterioration of university autonomy and academic freedom within the state university system.

On Tuesday (June 3) the strike will be led from the Colombo University premises where academics will gather at around 9 am where they will have a meeting followed by a protest campaign.

"The research allowance that was granted as an interim and compromise solution to salary grievances has completely failed ,’’ said Dewasiri. I believe that even Chairman of the University Grants Commission Shanika Hirumburegama had problems drawing her research allowance. There are now audit queries raised on the allowance."

Reacting to the forthcoming strike, one student exclaimed "Oh god! Not again. We have lost so much time and it looks like the academic year is going to be extended.’’

Commenting on the demands Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Senior Minister for International Monetary Co-operation and Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning said "If you start giving the increases they are asking for without addressing the many and serious issues in education this will all end up as salary increments. The curriculum has to be addressed. The position of the arts versus sciences have to be addressed. And it is certainly not one of allocations as I see it. I think we have a Minister of Higher Education who is actually trying to do what is right".

One trade union leader who requested anonymity said "The FUTA needs support but there are several issues here that require attention. Normally trade union action would be clearly towards one two or three demands. Here there is a shopping list, and the people will not be able to comprehend why the strike is going on, which means that soliciting support would remain academic.

"Now that they have called upon the AHS faculty students to return to class, I don’t really know how they can go on strike without harming both the students and the trade union action objectives".

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