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Eight unions to report back to work

Transport Ministry Secretary G. S. Vithanage yesterday said eight railway unions which were on strike have decided to report back to work. Vithanage explained that the government planned to recall all retired staff back into service, drivers working at the periphery of stations to be trained under seniors to operate as engine drivers and to recruit workers as guards.

“We will not be able to return the service back to normal but we can manage to keep it going until matters are resolved”, said Vithanage.

He further explained that despite all their efforts and the country’s most senior administrator, the Secretary to the President having held discussions with the unions twice, they had failed to arrive at a solution.

Fernando however stated that the unions as well as the Secretary to the President, Austin Fernando were able to reach a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on several issues during their discussions on Sunday but discussions fell apart over the manner in which the final agreement was addressed.

“It was a MoU between the Secretary to the President and us. But he did not sign it thus, he merely put a note that these demands would be referred to the President. We do not just want a letter to take back to the members, saying that we were given assurances. That would be betraying the membership. We want concrete action,” Fernando said.

According to the union leader, they are prepared to call off the strike if the authorities can officially agree to implement the agreement they have discussed.

““We are not in a position to grant all that they demand. There are certain matters which need to be agreed to by the Cabinet. No administrator can agree to such demands. There needs to be some flexibility and there are issues and we have agreed to look into them. But we cannot resolve issues overnight, we need time”, said Vithanage.

Parliament in the meantime approved the Gazette to make the Railways an essential service yesterday.

Authorities have also warned that workers who do not report to work would be considered to have vacated their posts.

In the meantime, Railway Unions’ Central Committee yesterday decided to continue with the strike they have been engaged in since Friday (8).

The strike which was initially called by the Train Engine Drivers’ Association has four unions supporting it with a total membership of 2500, according to Railway Guards’ Union, President Janaka Fernando.

The unions have stood firm in their resolve to continue with the strike action despite the President declaring it an essential service on Saturday in the belief that there is strength in numbers,

“The government cannot replace all of us. Even if they do manage to recruit so many people quickly.How will they get our expertise overnight?”, asked Fernando.

Their main grouse has been the recruitment process of engine driver assistants to which there is a Supreme Court ruling. The government has pointed out to the union that they cannot change a court ruling.