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, www.thecommunists.net

 

 

 

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4Y88OQs308 (Minute 9:21 to 9:56)

 

Statement by Chandimal Wijetatne: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1799660423625074/permalink/3015722418685529/

 

Other pictures and videos from the teachers struggle:

 

https://www.facebook.com/%E0%B6%BD%E0%B6%82%E0%B6%9A%E0%B7%8F-%E0%B7%83%E0%B7%8A%E0%B7%80%E0%B7%8F%E0%B6%B0%E0%B7%93%E0%B6%B1-%E0%B6%9C%E0%B7%94%E0%B6%BB%E0%B7%94-%E0%B7%83%E0%B7%9A%E0%B7%80%E0%B7%8F-%E0%B7%83%E0%B6%82%E0%B6%9C%E0%B6%B8%E0%B6%BA-108488264365010/photos/pcb.3015701355354302/295200575693777

 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3327346314158302&set=a.1562440147315603&type=3

 

https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3327345954158338&set=a.1562440147315603

 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1799660423625074/permalink/3015740222017082/

 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1799660423625074/permalink/3016568431934261/

 

https://www.facebook.com/108488264365010/photos/gm.3015371568720614/294915645722270/

 

 

 

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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, www.thecommunists.net

 

 

 

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.