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University lecturers’ agitation continues over salary issue

By Arthur Wamanan
The Higher Education sector is yet again faced with an obstacle, this time due to the agitation of the university lecturers to increase their salaries to a respectable amount.
With the token strike by the university teachers a couple of weeks ago not yielding any results, the lecturers have planned to take alternative measures to press the government to increase their pay.
The issue is likely to take another turn with the teachers planning to call for the intervention of the President to solve the problem.
The Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) which had met last Monday (21) had discussed on further actions that could be taken to press the government to increase their salaries to an acceptable level.
The university teachers had been discussing with the government on their salary system and had requested for an increase. The teachers claim that the government had agreed to adhere to their demands and revise the salary system of the lecturers.

The salary issue of the university lecturers was taken up just before the budget last year and the Higher Education Minister himself agreed that the salaries of the lecturers needed to be increased.
The friction between the lecturers and the Higher Education authorities intensified further when the latter increased their pay by a mere 36.25%.
The lecturers came down heavily on the government and refused to accept the revised salary system.
President of FUTA and Head of the Department of History and International Relations at the University of Colombo, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri said the teachers had decided to write to President Mahinda Rajapaksa for his intervention on the matter. In addition, they had also planned to step down from the administrative level.
“We had planned on these two steps during the meeting. We will be writing to the President within the next few days. At the same time, we have also planned to step down from the administrative level if the issue is not addressed,” he said.

The government in July last year said that it would increase the salary of a senior lecturer to Rs. 200,000 from Rs. 57, 775. Higher Education Minister, S. B. Dissanayake had reportedly stated this in Parliament when responding to a question by Democratic National Alliance (DNA) parliamentarian, Anura Kumara Dissanayake on revising the salary scales of university lecturers.
The Minister had reportedly said the government intended to increase the salaries of junior lecturers in the lowest grade from Rs. 20,750 to Rs. 72,000 and the basic salary of Senior Professor from Rs. 57,755 to Rs. 200,000.
Dr. Devasiri pointed out that the salary paid to the lecturers were not on par with many other countries. “Our standards are very much higher than many other countries. But, we are getting paid less than in Bangladesh,” Dr. Devasiri added.

Teaching has been accepted as one of the noble professions in the world and it is plays an even more important role in the universities in creating professionals belonging to various fields.
The higher education sector has been seeing several protests in the recent past. But every one of them had been staged by the students of the various national universities and nothing by the lecturers.
Universities are the nerve centres of the society where professionals are created from various sectors. Therefore, it is very important that the education process at this most important phase of their lives should not be disrupted.
Meanwhile, another member of the FUTA and the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Open University, Dr. Mahim Mendis defends the actions of the lecturers stating that they should be given a dignified salary that would encourage them to remain in this field.
“The university is the place where doctors, engineers, lawyers and other professionals are created. It is the nerve centre of the country. Therefore, it is important that the lecturers are given their due respect and treated properly,” he said.

Being a Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Dr. Mendis points out that the lecturers have been deprived of their due recognition. He also stressed the importance of having a proper salary structure in order to motivate them.
Although the token strike by the university teachers two weeks ago would have come as a surprise to many, Dr. Mendis points out that it was not a sudden move by them and that they had been demanding for a dignified salary package for the teachers for quite some time.
He said FUTA has met the government officials on quite a few occasions and say that their meetings had not yielded any results.

The government however states that it had taken action by increasing their salaries by 36.25%.
While the lecturers had come out hard against the Ministry, the latter denies the allegations levelled against them and states that the move by the university teachers to demand for a salary hike was unnecessary.
Secretary of the Higher Education Ministry, Dr. Sunil Jayantha Navaratne told The Nation that the government had taken this step to increase their salaries on the directive of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Dr. Navaratne admitted that the university lecturers had met with them on this issue. “We met with them and decided to increase their salary. The President has decided to increase their pay by 36.25% while the other public sector employees are getting a 265% increase. This shows that the President has given importance to them more than the others. They also should not compare their salaries with those in western countries,” he said.
According to the revised salary format, they would get 25% increase of their academic allowance. In addition, the lecturers would be getting a 25% research allowance. However, the second allowance would be given if they had conducted any research on their respective fields, according to the Higher Education Ministry Secretary.
Dr. Navaratne said the salaries of the lecturers ranged from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 80,000 depending on their seniority and qualifications.

Dr. Mendis however said the increase was not enough. “According to the present salary increase, the most senior professor is getting Rs. 3,600 in addition to his salary of Rs, 46,000,” he said.
He said that there was no circular mentioning the Research allowance until they announced the token strike on February 28. “That too was shabbily written.”
“We are not saying that other public sector employees are not important. But, we want a dignified salary. This profession should be respected.”
He pointed out that the Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake himself had once stated that the take home salaries should be increased to Rs. 200,000. “It is recorded in the hansard.”
Despite the professors coming out against the authorities on their salary issue, the government seems to be firm on their stand and a salary increase seems distant. Dr. Navaratne has said that the government had taken the best step forward to address the issue and there was no reason for the professors to be agitated.
On whether the lecturers had requested for another meeting with the government officials, Dr. Navaratne said there had been no official request after the strike.