CTB workers deprived of Dec. salary demand justice

By Shamindra Ferdinando

While trade unions representing workers at Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) are threatening to launch a countrywide strike to win an annual 15 per cent salary increase for a three-year period beginning Jan. 2012, the All Ceylon Transport Workers Union (ACTWU) is fighting for last month’s salary of those attached to Nittambuwa and Gampaha CTB deports.

ACTWU, affiliated to the JVP has already resorted to trade union action to pressure the Transport Ministry to pay workers struggling to make ends meet.

General Secretary of ACTWU, Sepala Liyanage yesterday told The Island they had been denied monthly salary citing the failure on the part of the depots to earn adequate profits, while all other loss making state institutions paid their employees on time with funds made available by the Treasury.

 An irate trade unionist said that those in power always talked about equality, the poorly paid CTB employees couldn’t even receive their salaries on time.

Responding to a query, Liyanage said that the lowest paid CTB workers received a salary of Rs. 8,430 a month, whereas the lowest state-sector paywas paid Rs. 11,730.

Liyanage said that parliamentary watchdog committee on public enterprises should intervene immediately to pressure the Transport Ministry to take remedial measures. The all-party committee shouldn’t turn a blind eye to what was going on at the institution, which couldn’t even provide uniforms to bus crew due to lack of funds. Could anything be as unfair as punishing private bus crews for not wearing uniforms, whereas the government was unable to provide uniforms to CTB crews.

The COPE is scheduled to meet in parliament tomorrow (Jan.17) with the participation of Secretaries to all ministries and presidential secretary, Lalith Weeratunga to discuss ways and means of restoring financial discipline in the public sector.

Liyanage emphasized that they weren’t asking for salary increment, special payments or any other privileges given to other public sector workers, but their monthly salary. According to him, those striking workers at Nittambuwa and Gampaha depots had agreed to resume work today (Jan.16) following last Friday’s discussions between CTB chief M.D. Bandusena and trade union representatives. Liyanage said that Bandusena had assured that their salaries would be paid today (Monday Jan. 16).

 "We are a neglected lot. Our workers, too, should be partly blamed for the pathetic situation. Unlike those employed in other sectors, the vast majority of CTB employees automatically align themselves with the government in power, thereby lose their ability to wage a successful trade union campaign," Liyanage said.

The CTB workforce comprised about 38,000 employees.

In spite of both CTB and Railways Department coming under the purview of one ministry, Railway workers had never been denied their monthly salary on time. In fact, none of the state-sector institutions had refused to pay their workers on the basis of them not being able to run profitably. Liyanage lashed out at the General Treasury for adopting double-standards when dealing with loss-making institutions.

ACTWU last week wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa urging him intervene to streamline salary payments. In its two-page letter, which dealt with the ongoing crisis at the Nittambuwa, the union blamed the General Treasury for denying the required funds, thereby causing administrative and operational chaos.

Liyanage said that they were told of the CTB’s inability to pay 5 per cent salary increase plus Rs. 600 cost-of-living allowance effective Jan. 2012 granted through the last budget presented in November 2011. Liyanage alleged that the government had no sense of responsibility towards the poor, who didn’t have any other income than their monthly salaries. The vast majority of public servants received paltry Rs 5 per cent increase, he said pointing out that even an employee receiving Rs. 20,000 would receive Rs. 1,000 plus Rs.6oo CoL.

Political sources said that the government was making a determined to change the existing formula under which the an influential section of the public sector namely the CEB,CPC, NWSDB and SLPA and banks received special increments once in every three years. Sources said that the CEB, CPC and NWSDB had received a staggering 78 per cent salary increase since 2003 (23 per cent), 2006 (33 per cent) and 2009 (22 per cent). They are now pushing for 45 per cent salary increase (15 per cent annual for three years beginning 2012).

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