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Sri Lanka: unions fight for peace and democracy

11 May, 2022IndustriALL Global Union is calling on the Sri Lankan government to implement the proposals made by trade unions as possible solutions to the current crisis. IndustriALL stands in solidarity with its affiliates in their fight to restore peace and democracy, amidst a major political and economic crisis in the country.

For months, Sri Lankans have been waiting in lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, foo, and medicine, the majority of which comes from abroad. Hard currency shortages have also hampered the import of raw supplies for manufacturing, worsening inflation which reached 18.7 per cent in March. The country is on the verge of defaulting on its foreign debts and payments have been suspended.

The government has so far failed to offer any solutions to the people protesting outside Parliament for over a month. People are demanding that the government demit office, which has added a huge political crisis to the situation. M Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister earlier this week.

On Monday, the tense situation took a new turn when government supporters, many armed with iron bars, stormed an anti-government demonstration, attacking them and setting fire to their tents. Police used water cannons and tear gas, which was followed by the angry mob torching several residences belonging to members of Parliament.

A curfew has been imposed across the country. The government has issued a special gazette notification declaring the essential services order and mentioning some of the industries as the essential services to prohibit trade union actions.

Anton Marcus, general secretary of IndustriALL affiliate Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union, says:

“We need to a build broad-based alliance among pro-people organizations to achieve political stability. We won’t be able to address the economic crisis without being politically stable.”

Trade unions, including IndustriALL affiliates, have been demanding that a Special Parliamentary Select Committee, comprising of all parties represented in Parliament, be constituted to formulate a plan to provide required fuel, LP gas, kerosene oil and other essential items to the people, at prices that prevailed in January 2020, and find solutions for the foreign exchange crisis. Funds available should be re-estimated with a new welfare budget presented in Parliament to serve the needs of the people.

While the introduction of organic fertiliser should have a clearly defined programme, a new programme to provide subsidised chemical fertiliser to farmers should be implemented. Dates should be fixed for a general election. Provincial council elections should be held along with parliamentary elections. The proposal to meanwhile set up an interim government is also endorsed by the Bar association.

Atle Høie, IndustriaLL general secretary, says:

“IndustriALL is urging the government to consider the rightful demands of trade unions and urgently implement them. It is imperative to restore peace and democracy in the country to prevent the crisis from escalating any further.”