TRAINS TO RUN?

Railway commuters were greatly inconvenienced when the train strike went on for the third consecutive day. Commuters were seen trying to board any available train which would take them close to their destination as possible. Packed to the brim, commuters boarded trains from the window while women held on for dear life clinging on to footboards. Based on the performance report of Sri Lanka Railways, more than 133 million passengers had travelled by train in 2016 alone. Pictures by Saman Mendis

The ongoing islandwide train strike which has left many commuters stranded whilst crippling essential services, may end today.

Trade union activists said that they may agree to call off the strike due to the GCE Ordinary Level Examination which begins tomorrow.

On Saturday, the government declared the railway service as an essential service, which meant that those obstructing the provision of the railway services can be tried under the Essential Services Act. According to the legal provisions those convicted under the Act can be liable to two years rigorous imprisonment.

The Cabinet is expected to discuss this matter tomorrow.

Discussions between railway trade unions and the President’s Secretary Austin Fernando concluded with the trade unions deciding to continue the strike.

Sri Lanka Railways Spokesman said they expect that railway workers will report back to work today, since their leave has been cancelled, with the declaration of the railway as an essential service.

“We expect that railway trade unions will call off their strike action today considering the inconvenience caused to students sitting the G.C.E. Ordinary Level Examination,” he added.

Sri Lanka Railways Additional General Manager (Operation) Vijaya Samarasinghe said he was confident that the Locomotive Engineering Operations Union (LEOU) and the Railway Employees’ Joint Front will call off their trade union action.

He said that the trade unions had sought a meeting with Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam to discuss their current trade union action in relation to the commencement of Ordinary Level Examination.

Samarasinghe said the strikers have expressed some concerns regarding their job safety and security as well. Samarasinghe said the strikers shouldn’t worry about their security, since Sri Lanka Railways is a government institution. He stressed that the Railways Department safeguards workers’ rights and ensures no harm come to those who participate in the trade union action.

Samarasinghe added that Sri Lanka Transport Board’s contribution and cooperation to minimize the discomfort caused by the trade union action, was commendable. He pointed out that the SLTB provided an efficient service for the commuters adding that railway season tickets were made valid to travel in SLTB buses.

On Sunday, trade union activists who spoke to the Daily News cited that they would momentarily end their strike due to the GCE O/L Examinations so that students will not be inconvenienced.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam has requested the LEOU to call off the strike considering the difficulties that it will cause the students sitting the O/L examination. Minister Kariyawasam has made the request from the trade unions at a meeting held at his residence yesterday (10). Minister Kariyawasam has also informed the strikers that he will put across their issues and demands to responsible parties.

The Minister pointed out to the strikers that the trade union action will cause distress to the students.

Minister Kariyawasam expressed confidence that the trade unions will give a positive response to his request.

Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva on the main demand made by LEOU said in keeping with the government’s new recruitment procedure it has been decided to recruit Locomotive Driver Assistants through a competitive examination by upgrading the required educational qualifications.

This measure was taken to provide driver training to the assistants so that they could substitute the official train driver in case of any emergency. The locomotive drives who threatened Railway authorities over this decision for the past several days, have launched a strike inconveniencing the public, Minister de Silva pointed out.

“The constant argument put forward by locomotive drivers was that assistants need not have a higher educational qualification. If not they could not keep the assistants under their control. Anyone would understand that this was an unjust and unfair demand,” he said.

“The driver assistants union had filed a petition in the supreme court against this injustice and the Attorney General had consequently ordered them to consequently conduct an examination. As Minister, he was not in a position to violate a court order issued through the Attorney-General,” Minister de Silva also said.

The Minister also said the Railway Employees’ Joint Front too had come out to support the drivers strike by launching a strike on their part based on a salary anomaly issue. Station masters, guards and supervisors were involved in this strike. The Minister said he had already submitted a Cabinet memorandum on resolving the salary anomaly issue.

“The Cabinet had submitted it to the Cabinet Advisory Committee for guidelines. When taking decisions about salary anomaly issues it was mandatory for the Cabinet to submit it to the Cabinet Advisory Committee. It would take several days for it to take a decision. It is on this issue that the Railway Employees Joint Front joined the strike causing great inconvenience to the public,” Minister de Silva added.

Minister de Silva also said that he condemns the strike in his capacity as the Minister of Transport, but said that he wishes to grant reasonable demands by listening to the strikers.

The Minister said he never intends to stifle trade unions. Therefore, he would earnestly request union leaders to call off the strike and report back to work and resolve their problems through negotiation. If union members failed to report to work, they would be considered as vacating their posts.

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