With reports of a meeting between former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and several trade union bosses coming to light, concerns are mounting about more strikes in key service sectors in the near future to raise public ire especially ahead of a major rally planned by the pro-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna next month.
Former President Rajapaksa met with several trade union leaders linked with his faction last Monday (13) at the Abhayaramaya temple in Narahenpita. The meeting was purportedly to discuss an alleged impending ‘crackdown on unions’ by the Government.
In a coincidental turn of events, the recent GMOA token strike and the railway strike followed a previous meeting with the former President at his Wijerama residence in early August.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera who refused to negotiate demands with railway unions until they called off the strike, said the crippling and unethical trade union actions smacked of political sabotage.
Other Government members have also drawn attention to links between the main railway union boss behind the recent wildcat train strike, Indika Dodangoda, and SLPP strongman and former Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Dodangoda has also been linked to former Transport Minister Kumara Welgama, who has not denied allegations that the railway union boss is a relative.
Another railway strike is reportedly in the offing unless the Government gives into the demands of the unions for better wages, despite the sector being one of the best remunerated public services in the country.
Meanwhile the medical profession is also deeply divided over continuous allegations that GMOA boss Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya is a disciple of the former President and his clan. Dr Padeniya breached all codes of professional conduct when he laid bare his political affiliations by endorsing former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 presidential elections and mobilised support for Rajapaksa among his GMOA membership. This month, the GMOA token strike coincided with a small JO rally in Colombo planned on the same day.
Even within the GMOA, opinion is divided on whether the political aspirations of the Padeniya faction should determine the course of action and the timing of that action by the doctors’ union. Some medical professionals have also expressed concerns that the GMOA’s only demands relate to matters outside its domain- such as the Singapore FTA - or benefits and privileges for its membership. “The union never strikes about a lack of doctors or facilities in a hospital, or the state of patient care in rural base hospitals,” one GMOA member, speaking on condition of anonymity complained.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Medical Association President Dr. Ruvaiz Haniffa also weighed in recently on unethical strikes by the GMOA. It was the GMOA’s right to launch trade union action, Dr Haniffa said, but it should never be at the expense of patients. “They may have a right to go on strike but certainly not by holding patients to ransom,” Dr Haniffa said.
Ironically, many of these pro-Rajapaksa trade unions have launched a series of strikes to oppose policies and circulars put in place while the former President was in power.
The GMOA, which did not launch strikes when the SAITM was established in 2008, or when former President Rajapaksa accepted it as a medical and engineering degree awarding institute in 2011 via gazette, or even when scholarships were handed out by the Government to SAITM students in 2013, but mobilised crippling protests against the private medical college only after the fall of the Rajapaksa regime in 2015.
Similarly, the railway salary and grade anomaly was created by the circular 6/2006 of the Salaries Commission. However, only one major strike was conducted by the Railway TUs from 2006 till 2014, while four, including two major strikes were conducted since December 2017.