Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Military ready to assist in operating essential services

The military says it is ready to assist in the operations of essential services if the need arises with trade unions attached to the petroleum, electricity and water board threatening to disrupt the services from today.

Speaking to Daily Mirror online this morning Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakara said the army had on previous occasions as well assisted in operating essential services and is ready to do so even now if required.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unions vow to cripple essential services

By Kelum Bandara and Hemanthi Guruge - The trade unions of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, the Ceylon Electricity Board, the National Water Supply and Drainage Board and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority yesterday vowed to go ahead with their three-day work to rule campaign from today rejecting the government assurance of a 22 percent salary hike from November this year.

Addressing the media, Petroleum and Petroleum Resources Development Minister A.H.M. Fowzie said the government held extensive talks with trade union representatives on Monday, and agreed to increase the monthly salaries of CPC workers by 22 percent. The Minister said the increased

salaries would be paid from January next year, but would be effective from November this year.

“Their major demand was to honour the agreement that their salaries should be revised upward every three years. Accordingly, the government is supposed to announce a pay hike for them this year. Nevertheless, there is an understanding between the government and the public servants that salaries cannot be increased this year given the war situation. It was an understanding. We did not ensure a pay hike even for soldiers,” he said.

However, he said the government took a decision to go for an upward revision of salary scales of these workers from November this year.

“We have given them enough. We have paid their bonuses and other allowances. So, there is no valid reason for them to resort to trade union action. We have agreed to increase their basic salaries by 22 percent. Simultaneously, their overtime rates will also be increased. Eventually, they might get their monthly pay increased by at least by 50 percent. So, we see this action as a politically motivated attempt to inconvenience and topple the government,” he said.

As a result, he said the government had worked out alternative arrangements to distribute fuel today despite the work to rule campaign.

“This is a conspiracy. Most rich people in Colombo support the UNP. So, they buy more and more fuel from filling stations to create an artificial shortage of fuel throughout the country. We saw some people coming with bottles to purchase fuel. Has it ever happened in this country?” he asked.

Ministry Secretary M.M.C. Ferdinando said workers demand that their salary increases be backdated from January this year, but it could not be accepted.

“These employees had reached an understanding to forgo their salary increases from January to October earlier given the high defence budget for the war effort. Now, they are demanding it,” he said.

Nevertheless, Petroleum Common Service Union Spokesman D.J. Rajakaruna said all members of his union would participate in this trade union action demanding a salary increase effective from January 2009.

The All Ceylon General Port Employees Union said the work to rule campaign would have dire consequences on the daily economic activities in the country. Union Secretary Ranjan Jayalal said the government would be compelled to pay surcharges since ships could not be released on time due to the proposed trade union action. The UNP-affiliated Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya said it would also join this action demanding pay hikes for the employees.

Water Supply Board Union Representative Gihan Liyanarachchi said workers would disturb the industrial peace at vital institutions during this period. However, he said there would be a mild approach at the Water Supply Board because it is an essential service for the people.

Ports Authority Union Representative Udeni Kalutanthri said though the JVP and the UNP engaged in hostile politics, they had now come together against this government.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

JDS Commends TNL Newsmen for Their Courageous Exposure of Police Brutality

Journalist for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) highly appreciate the efforts taken by TNL and its Assistant News Editor Sisikelum Dahampriya Balage, to expose the killing of a youth in broad daylight, in the capital of Sri Lanka, allegedly by policemen.

On the 29th of October 2009, TNL aired footage of several policemen clubbing a Tamil youth, Balavarnam Sivakumar forcing him to drown to death in the sea, while many civilians watched on passively.

It was reported that police were in pursuit of Balavarnam Sivakumar who was a mentally ill who threw stones at passing trains. The chase ended in a tragic and avoidable death which would have gone unreported had it not been for TNL journalist Sisikelum Balage who filmed it from a nearby high rise building. The coverage aptly exposed the manner how the rule of law is abused in Sri Lanka by those who are chosen and paid to safeguard it.

Earlier in August following the death of Dinesh Tharanga Fernando and Dhanushaka Udaya Aponsu in custody the media and the public expressed their anger that led to the sacking of the police team in Angulana. However, the death of Sivakumar does not seem to have grabbed the attention of the media or the public in such a manner.

While one suspect policeman Dimuthu Somnas has been remanded after being taken into custody, others who were seen committing this crime are still at large. There were no reports of action taken against officers who command those policemen. The president who is in charge of law and order is yet to make any statement with regard to this atrocity.

In a country where police brutality has gone unpunished for decades, we call upon the media and the public to be vigilant and call to bring those responsible for the killing of Balavarnam Sivakumar to justice. The presence of a camera and a keen eyed journalist helped to bring this crime to light. We call upon the concerned citizens in Sri Lanka not to be silent and let the criminals go unpunished. We need to join hands in order to stop the rule of law becoming a rule unto them.

The TNL coverage about this brutality is also a beacon to us journalists in a land where challenging state authorities or exposing their wrongdoings through media is not seen as a comfortable way of reporting events in Sri Lanka. We sincerely hope that media workers in the country will follow the lead and be more courageous to expose the true nature of things in their coverage in time to come.

Well Done TNL! Well done Sisikelum!!

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sri Lanka state-sector unions to work to rule

By Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal - A united Sri Lankan opposition on Tuesday put its weight behind state sector trade unions which are going on a five-day work-to-rule in their push for higher pay.

State power, water, oil and port workers will not work outside assigned duties and set working hours from Wednesday after negotiations broke down as the government tries to slash spending to meet the terms of an IMF loan deal.

"We are going ahead with the planned union action as the we haven't got a favourable response," said Ranjan Jayalal, convenor of a united trade union front at the state-owned power firm.

Since coming to power in 2005, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has largely avoided conflict with the powerful labour and student unions, having asked them in 2006 to postpone wage demands until the military had defeated Tamil Tiger separatists. But since the 25-year war ended in May, unions have begun to make their voices heard and demand pay hikes to counter a higher cost of living. The government says the work-to-rule is politically motivated. Rajapaksa faces presidential and parliamentary polls by April amid pressure to cut expenditure.

The government is supposed to reduce the budget deficit to 7 percent this year from around 9 percent, under the terms of a $2.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan. [ID:nSP539379]

Trade unions of the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and pro-capitalist United National Party have joined hands in the latest protest, amid speculation over the both opposition parties forming a coalition in the next presidential poll.

The government on Tuesday agreed to raise the wages of state oil firm employees by 22 percent from January next year, which the oil union rejected, saying their claim was from January 2009.

"We will come up with our plan when they start their protest," Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, the government's cabinet spokesman, told Reuters. "This is a politically motivated action."

Queues formed at petrol stations in the commercial heart of Colombo after a four-day work-to-rule campaign last month saw the pumps go dry.

© Reuters

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers on Hunger Strike

A group of Sri Lankan women detained at Indonesia's Merak port went on a hunger strike on Monday the 9th.

They are part of a group of Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia. Their wooden boat was intercepted by Indonesian authorities a month ago. Since then, they have been living on the boat, which is being held at the port.

The protesters are frustrated that they’re being kept in limbo.

[Shanty, Protester]:
“Why you are sleeping, women organizations? Why you are sleeping? Please try to understand, our feeling and our body condition and everything. Here a lot of ladies and a lot of children are here. We are suffering from Sri Lankan government and this traveling also. We can't stay more this situation. Please try to understand.”

International organizations and some residents near the port have been providing daily basic needs for the Sri Lankans.

Australia is seeing the biggest stream of illegal immigrants in seven years. The Australian government asked for Indonesia’s help in stopping illegal immigrants from heading to Australia.

The Australian prime minister held talks with the Indonesian president last month to discuss the plight of the asylum seekers. Further talks are expected at the APEC summit in Singapore this weekend.

© New Tang Dynasty Television

Related Links:
Sri Lanka deal bid to curb asylum seekers - New Zealand Herald
Sri Lanka's Tamils need more help: Australian special envoy - Radio Australia News
Asylum-seekers' fate still uncertain - The Canberra Times

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