|This week saw the second stage of a
‘work-to-rule campaign’ led by employees of the
Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), which drew
strength from the support extended by workers of the
National Water Supply & Drainage Board (NWSDB),
Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Sri Lanka
Ports Authority (SLPA).
The campaign was a sequel
to a similar exercise launched a fortnight ago by
CPC employees which disrupted fuel supplies, leading
to chaos in the streets. On their second attempt
though, mercifully for the general public, the
impact was much less and there was hardly any
disruption of everyday life.
Yet, the unions responsible for the
‘work-to-rule’ campaign have responded defiantly,
rejecting the interim relief that has been offered
to them, and threatening to launch a ‘non-stop’
campaign to win their demands for substantial wage
We are not for a moment, suggesting that these
employees be denied their legitimate right to engage
in trade union activity, to win their just demands.
However, the manner in which it is done and the
underlying motivation calls into question the bona
fides of those engaged in this ‘struggle’.
Recent reports in the media - yet to be
contradicted or denied - suggest that the average
wage of an unskilled worker at the CPC is about
Rs.43,000. We are not grudging these emoluments, if
this is indeed the case, but it does negate the
claims of the CPC unions that their employees are a
neglected lot, because this wage is several fold
more than what many more qualified wage earners and
professionals earn in this country.
We would also therefore, call into question the
motivation of the striking unions. It would be only
too naive to imagine that these unions are acting
entirely of their own accord, and it is an open
secret that the strike has been launched at the
instigation of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
The fact that the striking unions enjoy political
patronage does not by itself negate the objectives
of the campaign. Nevertheless, the striking unions
should be able to convince the general public that
their demands merit the drastic measures that they
are adopting, because these tactics are
inconveniencing millions of people and depriving the
country of valuable revenue.
These unions should also be in a position to
reassure the country that they are not mere puppets
in the hands of their political masters. Sadly, in
the current ‘work-to-rule’ campaign, the unions
responsible have been able to do neither.
It is therefore, time for the unions to call off
the bluff and resort to decent ways to win their
more reasonable demands. Of course, to do so they
would need to act independently and not merely at
the behest of their political lords who dictate what
should be done.
We have seen such a scenario being enacted before
in the Plantation sector, where the Ceylon Workers’
Congress (CWC) gained notoriety for staging strikes
for political reasons. Today, the same CWC is a mere
shadow of its former self, and no longer commands a
monopoly in the Plantations.
Perhaps there is a lesson in that for the JVP and
its affiliated unions. For, if they are not careful,
the very fact that the public is being severely
inconvenienced, as a result of their actions, could
lead to an erosion of their vote base, which is not
considerable to begin with, anyway!