The Great Strike of Sri Lanka's Teachers

Sri Lanka: Important Struggle of the Teachers


Report by Chandimal Wijetatne, General Secretary of the Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union, with a brief Preface of the Editorial Board of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 25 August 2021,




Preface of the Editorial Board


Below we publish the report of comrade Chandimal Wijetatne, General Secretary of the Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union. Sri Lanka’s teachers are involved in an important struggle since more than 6 weeks. They fight both for economic as well as democratic rights as the right-wing chauvinist government of Mahinda Rajapaksa tries to intimidate the teachers.


The situation in the country’s education sector is devastating. The government utilizes the COVID pandemic in order to expand its power. It has closed school which effectively means that many children have no longer access to education. According to a report by comrade Upul Siriwardena, President of the Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union, teachers are doing their best to continue education for school students by online teaching. However, as the comrade reports, there are enormous limits as 60% of the school students have no access to the internet at home!


There exist a number of trade unions among the teachers (similar to the situation in many other sectors of Sri Lanka’s working class). The Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union is one of the more sizeable unions with a membership of about 3000 teachers. It is the second largest union in the Sabaragamuwa province of Sri Lanka.


The teachers’ struggle has received wide attention in Sri Lanka. The trade unions have organized a number of protests and media activities. Below you find several links about the struggle.


Excerpts from a Press Conference with Upul Siriwardena speaking: (Minute 9:21 to 9:56)


Statement by Chandimal Wijetatne:


Other pictures and videos from the teachers struggle:




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Sri Lankan government teachers called an online strike since 12th of July this year. This struggle has been erupted due to the arrest of few teachers’ trade union leaders along with university student leaders. They protested against the proposed bill of Kothalawala Defence university. Sri Lankan government charged that these trade union leaders had violated the quarantine law of the country and illegally they were transported and confined into a quarantine centre.


At the beginning teachers protested only for this illegal act. But later their real grievances have come out and demanded to solve their 23 years long salary anomalies problem. So many protests, demonstrations have been organized by teacher trade unions. These agitation actions have been spread throughout the local towns and cities with the help of huge gathering of teachers.


At present, two teachers’ trade union blocks lead the struggle. One teachers’ front is led by teachers’ trade union which affiliated with political parties and the second block is consisted with non-political party influenced forces. But their all demands are relied on salary anomalies. Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union works with the second block as an independent force.


The struggle is temporarily called off due to ongoing Covid 19 third wave in the country. Sri Lankan government has appointed a sub-ministerial committee to find ways and means to solve the problem.




Excerpts from a Press Conference with Upul Siriwardena speaking (Minute 9:21 to 9:56)

Sri Lanka: Government says no Money to Solve Teachers’ Salary Anomalies


Report by Upul Siriwardene, President of the Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union, with a brief Preface of the Editorial Board of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 7 September 2021,




Preface of the Editorial Board


Below we publish the report of comrade Upul Siriwardena, President of the Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union. The struggle of Sri Lanka’s teachers for higher wages and against authoritarian attacks, which started in mid-July, is continuing.


The teachers’ struggle is an important development of the class struggle and has clearly impacts on the domestic political situation. This is reflected in the fact that the right-wing chauvinist government of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has been forced to create a sub-ministerial committee to deal with the demands of the teachers.


As comrade Upul Siriwardena indicates at the end of his report, it is crucial to build a single united front of struggle of different teachers’ unions in order to unite the teachers and to push forward the bureaucratic leaders of various unions.


It is clear that the struggle of teachers deserves the full support of socialists in Sri Lanka and internationally. A successful outcome of this strike would be an encouragement for other sectors of the working class to enter the struggle. It would also politically weaken the chauvinist Gotabhaya government and, by this, improve the conditions of the oppressed national minority of the Tamils to fight for their rights.




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The Sri Lankan teachers have been continuing an online teaching strike since 12th July this year. It seems to be going forward without solution. Meanwhile the government has reshuffled the cabinet and even appointed a new education minister in order to create the impression of change and to pacify the teacher’s struggle. The President has appointed a sub-ministerial committee to find a solution to address the teachers’ issue.


Now they have declared their stance on teachers’ salary anomalies. In Table 1 and 2 we document the offers of the government.




Table 1. Government Offer for Teachers’ Salary Increment


Teachers’ Grades                            Government’s proposed salary increment                           US$


3-2                                                          Rs 3790                                                                                                $ 17


3-1 (C)                                                   Rs 4620                                                                                                $ 21


3-1 (B)                                                   Rs 5740                                                                                               $ 26


3-1 (A)                                                   Rs 6580                                                                                               $ 29


2-2                                                          Rs 5875                                                                                               $ 26


2-2 (3rd salary scale)                       Rs 6585                                                                                               $ 29


2-1                                                         Rs 8250                                                                                               $ 37


1                                                            Rs 11820                                                                                             $ 53




Table 2. Government Offer for Principals’ Salary Increment


Principals’ Grades                          Government’s proposed salary increment                           US$


3                                                             Rs 6895                                                                                               $31


2                                                             Rs8645                                                                                               $39


1                                                             Rs 12020                                                                                             $54




In addition to above mentioned salary increment, an allowance of Rs 5000/- is ready to be paid for the forthcoming September & October. This allowance is mere petty cash to deflect the teachers’ anger towards the government. The government’s next intention is to release the delayed Ordinary Level Exam’s result for the whole island. Along with online teachers’ strike, aesthetic subjects teachers have boycotted “practical test” of O/L candidates. Therefore, the government could not release the results yet. The government says that the proposed salary increment would be implemented in four instalments due to ongoing economic hardships.


The teachers have demanded more than three times higher salary increment than offer of the government. Due to prevailing Corona pandemic, the teachers’ trade unions demanded to pay the proposed salary increment at once. In response, one of the ministers who represents the cabinet subcommittee said to teachers that do not demand a pound of flesh like Shylock. In this situation all teachers’ unions – except the government-backed trade unions – have vehemently rejected the government’s request to end the strike. 


It is evident that the government does not have a plan to solve the struggle in a constructive way but rather launches oppressive steps to curb the teachers’ struggle. In this context, teachers may face a bitter experience in the struggle. On the other hand, leading teachers’ unions do not have a clear perspective to win the struggle. Obviously, the leadership of the leading teachers’ union like Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) and Ceylon Teacher Services Union (CTSU) are in the leadership to the struggle due to the pressure of rank and file members of the unions.


More than two years ago, these traditional teachers’ unions proposed to convert the teacher service to “a closed service” by separating teachers from other government services like Sri Lanka Postal Service and Sri Lanka Railway Service. They suggested that this would be an advantage for increasing the salaries and improving the living conditions of the teachers. Now the government says they will implement the union’s proposal without any significant salary hike.


The trade union which the author of these lines represents – the Ceylon Independent Teacher Services Union (CITSU) – unambiguously warned from the beginning about the dangers of transforming schools into “a closed service” and its future consequences.


The pro-closed service unions do everything possible to isolate CITSU in the struggle. But they are incapable to counter our arguments and or to explain what the advantage of a closed service would be.


The Ceylon Independent Teacher Services Union always stands to defend the teachers’ struggle and condemn all sort of sectarianism which sabotages the unity of the teachers in the struggle for their interests!




Sri Lanka: Two Video Statements on Current Issues of the Teachers' Struggle


Below we publish two video statements by comrade Chandimal Wijetatne, General Secretary of the Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union. In these videos he deals with the governmental proposal for close service for teachers as well as with the nature of school log book. The statements are in Sinhala language.


Sri Lanka: Governo diz que não há dinheiro para resolver anos de não ajustes salariais dos professores


Informes de Upul Siriwardene, Presidente do Sindicato dos Professores Independentes do Ceilão, com um breve prefácio do Conselho Editorial da Corrente Internacional Comunista Revolucionária (CCRI/RCIT), 7 de setembro de 2021,




Prefácio do Conselho Editorial


Abaixo publicamos o relatório do camarada Upul Siriwardena, Presidente do Sindicato dos Professores independentes do Ceilão. A luta dos professores do Sri Lanka por salários mais altos e contra ataques autoritários, que começaram em meados de julho, continua.


A luta dos professores é um importante desenvolvimento da luta de classes e tem impactos evidentes na situação política interna do país. Isso se reflete no fato de que o governo chauvinista de direita de Gotabhaya Rajapaksa se viu a criar um comitê sub-ministerial para lidar com as demandas dos professores.


Como o camarada Upul Siriwardena indica no final de seu relatório, é crucial construir uma frente unida de luta de diferentes sindicatos de professores, a fim de unir os professores e avançar além dos líderes burocráticos de vários sindicatos.


É evidente que a luta dos professores merece o apoio total dos socialistas no Sri Lanka e internacionalmente. Um resultado bem-sucedido desta greve seria um incentivo para que outros setores da classe trabalhadora entrassem na luta. Também enfraqueceria politicamente o governo chauvinista Gotabhaya e, com isso, melhoraria as condições da minoria nacional oprimida do povo Tamil para lutar por seus direitos.




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Os professores do Sri Lanka continuam uma greve de ensino online desde 12 de julho deste ano. Parece que a situação continua sem solução. Enquanto isso, o governo modificou o gabinete e até nomeou um novo ministro da educação para criar a impressão de mudança e pacificar a luta do professor. O Presidente nomeou um comitê subministerial para encontrar uma solução para resolver a questão dos professores.


Agora eles declararam sua posição sobre ao anos de não ajustes salariais dos professores. Na Tabela 1 e 2 documentamos as ofertas do governo.


Além do incremento salarial acima mencionado, um subsídio de Rs 5000/- está pronto para ser pago para o próximo mês de setembro e outubro. Este subsídio é mera migalha para desviar a raiva dos professores em relação ao governo. A próxima intenção do governo é liberar o resultado do Exame de Nível Ordinário para toda a ilha. Junto com a greve dos professores online, professores boicotaram a "prova prática" dos candidatos. Portanto, o governo ainda não pôde divulgar os resultados. O governo diz que o aumento salarial proposto seria implementado em quatro parcelas devido a dificuldades econômicas em curso.


Os professores exigiram por três vezes mais aumento salarial do que as propostas do governo. Devido à pandemia predominante, os sindicatos dos professores exigiram que o governo pague o aumento salarial proposto de uma só vez. Em resposta, um dos ministros que representa o subcomitê do gabinete disse aos professores que não exijam mais do que o governo possa pagar. Nesta situação, todos os sindicatos de professores – exceto os sindicatos apoiados pelo governo – rejeitaram veementemente o pedido do governo para acabar com a greve.


É evidente que o governo não tem um plano para resolver a luta de forma construtiva, mas lança medidas opressivas para conter a luta dos professores. Nesse contexto, os professores podem enfrentar uma duraexperiência nessa luta. Por outro lado, os principais sindicatos de professores não têm uma perspectiva clara para vencer essa luta. Obviamente, a liderança do sindicato dos professores, como o Sindicato dos Professores de Ceilão (CTU) e o Sindicato dos Serviços de Professores de Ceilão (CTSU) estão na liderança da luta devido à pressão das suas bases e dos militantes dos sindicatos.


Há mais de dois anos, esses sindicatos tradicionais de professores propuseram converter o serviço de professores para "um serviço fechado" o que significa que os funcionários só podem ser transferidos dentro do setor de educação, não para outros setores públicos governamentais, como o Serviço Postal do Sri Lanka e o Serviço Ferroviário do Sri Lanka. Eles sugeriram que isso seria uma vantagem para aumentar os salários e melhorar as condições de vida dos professores. Agora, o governo diz que vai implementar a proposta do sindicato sem qualquer aumento salarial significativo.


O sindicato que o autor dessas linhas representa – o Sindicato Independente de Serviços de Professores do Ceilão (CITSU) – alertou inequivocamente desde o início sobre os perigos de transformar as escolas em "um serviço fechado" e suas consequências futuras.


Os sindicatos de serviços pró-fechados fazem todo o possível para isolar a CITSU na luta. Mas eles são incapazes de contrariar nossos argumentos e ou explicar qual seria a vantagem de um serviço fechado.


O Sindicato Independente dos Serviços de Professores de Ceilão sempre defende a luta dos professores e condena todo tipo de sectarismo que sabota a unidade dos professores na luta por seus interesses!


Upul Siriwardene: Presidente do Sindicato do Serviço de Professores independentes do Ceilão




Sri Lanka: On the Current State of the Teachers' Struggle


Report by Chandimal Wijetatne, General Secretary of the Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union, with a brief Preface of the International Editorial Board of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 2 November 2021,




Below we publish a brief update on the struggle of the Sri Lankan teachers by comrade Chandimal Wijetatne, General Secretary of the Ceylon Independence Teacher Service Union. After more than three months of strike, the bureaucracy of the main trade union federations agreed to a contract which did not result in a meaningful increase of wages.


However, several more militant trade unions have agreed to join forces so that they continue to fight for the interests of the teachers.


The sell-out of the struggle by the union bureaucrats shows once more that this layer has close relations with the capitalist state apparatus, in fact it is integrated into the state. The rank and file teachers must not rely on such leaders but rather fight for their interests by organizing democratically and independently of the state.


Of course, this must not result in ultra-left conclusions such as a refusal of the united front tactic towards the mainstream trade unions. They must be called and pressurized to join the struggle as they still have a lot of influence among the teachers. However, such calls need to be combined with warning about the character of the bureaucracy and their harmful role in the struggle.




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The struggle waged by teachers in Sri Lanka was abandoned by the traditional teachers' unions on the 18th October.


Subsequently, the National Coalition Against Teacher-Principal Salary Anomaly, formed by other teacher unions, decided to hold a continuous satyagraha. Accordingly, on October 26, the Sathyagraha was launched by the Government Teachers' Association, a partner organization.


The Ceylon Independent Teachers' Service Union joined the Satyagraha on November 2 to support it.


From left to right in the photo below are Jeevika Abeysekera, President of the Guru Maga 'Association, Dayaratne Patabendi, Secretary of the Guru Maga' Association, Shehan Dissanayake, Secretary of the Government Teachers 'Association and Chandimal Wijeratne, Secretary of the Ceylon Independent Teachers' Service Union.