FUTA vows to continue strike

Mammoth rally in Colombo:


by Dasun Edirisinghe

Dr. Dewasiri (Pic by Saman Ranaweera)

Thousands of university teachers, undergraduates and trade unionists marched to the Hyde Park yesterday, accusing the government of turning a blind eye on their grievances.

Lecturers representing all universities in the country participated in yesterday’s protest organized by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA).

Three marches commenced from the Viharamahadevi Park, the Gamini Hall Junction and Slave Island and protesters converged at Hyde Park, causing heavy traffic congestion.

The police closed all roads leading to the Ibbanwela Junction and there was a heavy police presence around the  venue of FUTA rally, which ended without incident.

University teachers holding placards with slogans such as ‘Save State Education,’ ‘Allocate 6% of the GDP to education,’ and ‘Give immediate solution to the demands of university teachers’ marched peacefully.

Addressing the rally, FUTA President Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri said that the university teachers had been on a continuous strike since July 04 demanding that 6% of the GDP be allocated for education, university teachers be given a pay hike and consulted when decisions were made on higher education.

"We will not give up our struggle until our demands are met," the FUTA chief said.

Dr. Devasiri said that the striking dons had held several rounds of discussions with government politicians and top bureaucrats but they had ended inconclusively and the university teachers’ problems remained unsolved. He said closing universities was no solution and the real problem had to be addressed and a solution found urgently in the public interest.

FUTA Vice President Ven. Dambara Amila Thera said that the government was splurging billions of rupees on useless projects such as ports, airports and playgrounds to the neglect of vital sectors like education.

In spite of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s failings and blunders like her attempt to set up a joint mechanism to share tsunami relief with the LTTE, she had allocated about 3.4% of GDP for education, Amila Thera said, noting that before 2005, when the incumbent President was installed, a higher percentage of GDP had been set aside for education. He said the effort of the striking dons was to protect free education and deserved the unstinted support of the public. He lashed out at the state media for trying to undermine the FUTA and its trade union action by slinging mud at its President Dr. Dewasiri.

Pointing out that the fund allocation for education during the war had been higher than it was at present, the Thera demanded to know why the government could not increase funds for education in peace time.

Senior trade unionists, Bala Tampoe, General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers Service Union (CTSU) Mahinda Jayasinghe, President of the Inter University Trade Union Joint Committee R. M. Chandrapala, and Dharmasiri Lankapeli of the Free Media Movement also spoke. JVP MPs Vijitha Herath and Sunil Handunnetti, General Sarath Fonseka’s wife Anoma Fonseka, DNA MP Jayantha Ketagoda attended the rally.

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