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STRIKE ENDS, TRAINS ON TRACK

Trains began running from the Fort railway station with the end of the trade union action that crippled services for the past six days. A scene at the Fort station captured by our photographer Sarath Peiris.

Railway trade unions ended their strike yesterday.

This is following discussions held with the four member Cabinet Sub Committee headed by Special Assignment Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama appointed to look into their demands.

The Cabinet Sub committee unanimously decided that the Railway, Health and Education Services should be reorganized as ‘closed services’.

They have agreed to submit these recommendations at the next Cabinet meeting.

Thousands of railway commuters including schoolchildren sitting for the GCE Ordinary Level examination were inconvenienced due to the strike action of 12 Trade Unions for six days. The government had to declare the railways as an essential service from December 8.

The Cabinet sub committee yesterday morning held a lengthy discussion with the Trade Union representatives and agreed that decisions regarding new recruitment and examinations to these services should be withheld until solutions were found to existing problems after discussions with the trade unions next week.

The Committee also agreed to resolve administrative and salary issues in the Sri Lanka Railway Department after calling all officials for a discussion with Trade Union representatives.

It was also decided that no disciplinary action will be taken against any officer who participated in the trade union action and future work should continue as before.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet briefing at Government Information Department yesterday Co-cabinet spokesperson Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne said the government has proposed to declare the Railways, Education sector and Health sector as ‘closed services’ to resolve the issue of salary anomalies in the pay grades across these sectors.

The Ministerial sub-committee having discussed the above proposal with the union have agreed that this is the best possible solution to the problem, Minister Senaratne said.

The Sub Committee comprisedSpecial Assignments Minister, Dr Sarath Amunugama (Chair), Education Minister, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam,Ranjith Madduma Bandara and Health Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne.

This was a technical problem, rather than a problem with salaries, Minister Dr Senaratne said.

He explained that under a closed service, a salary increment or change in one sector will not affect another. At present the Judicial Service is the only closed government service.

“The problem started when the previous government decided to decrease the number of pay grades from 132 to 34. It was a good move, but it also brought up many issues. It is very difficult to bring a government service with 1.5 million workers down to 34 grades,” Dr Senaratne said.

Co-cabinet spokesperson, Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara added that mistakes in a 2006 public administration circular triggered the crisis causing major salary anomalies across the public sector.

“When you resolve issues of the Railways, Health threatens to strike and vice versa”, he added.

Minister Dr Senaratne however believed that the closed service proposal would resolve 75 percent of the issues brought forward by the Railway unions. The Cabinet paper on the subject is expected to be presented to cabinet next Tuesday.

“Thereafter we will hold further discussions with the unions and study their salary grievances within the ‘closed service’ framework. The unions also had certain legal issues which we will resolve in consultation the Attorney General”, Senaratne said.

He assured that no legal or disciplinary action will be taken against Railway employees who refused to report to work even after the President declared it an essential service,

“We have come to a settlement now,” Dr Senaratne said. Meanwhile twelve railway trade unions suspended their strike action yesterday citing a productive meeting with members of the four member Cabinet committee.

The committee has agreed to resolve some of the issues through a Cabinet Paper next week.

“The four member ministerial sub-committee has agreed to look into our grievances and bring about an agreeable solution. The first step would be to put forward a cabinet paper next week directing that the Railway be declared a closed service,” Sri Lanka Station Master’s Union General Secretary Indika Pathiranage said.

“They have also promised to resolve other matters within the next two months,” he said.

Pathiranage added that they would suspend the strike temporarily until a permanent solution is given to them within these two months. “It must be mentioned that until this morning, no one offered to come for discussions with us (unions). Had they offered to do so, this matter could have been resolved long ago.”

Another union representative from the Railway Locomotive Engine Driver’s Union told the Daily News that the meeting with the ministerial sub-committee has been productive and satisfactory citing that the unions had received the response they had been agitating for.

“We did not ask for our demands to be met overnight, we were willing to engage in discussions from the start.”

He said the Union had intended to continue the strike for the entire week adding that numerous rounds of talks between trade union representatives and officials failed since they were not willing to make amends.

President Maithripala Sirisena appointed the four-member committee to look into the grievances of the protesting railway employees, who have been striking for nearly a week.The members of the committee are Ministers Dr Sarath Amunugama, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and Ranjith Madduma Bandara.