President’s advice to TUs | Daily News

President’s advice to TUs

President Maithripala Sirirsena did right when he called on all SLFP/UPFA affiliated Trade Unions in the State sector to ensure that peace prevails in their organisations following the change of Government. Meeting Trade Union leaders at the Presidential Secretariat on Tuesday, the President, referring to the incidents at certain State institutions following the swearing-in of new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday night, urged them to cooperate with the Government by maintaining peace in their organisations since the UNP and some other elements were hell-bent on bringing disrepute to the Government by using such incidents.

Things certainly did get out of hand following Friday night’s dramatic events, as the incident at a state run television station indicated. The President is fully aware that such happenings could sully the image of the country in the eyes of the outside world, particularly in this day and age where news travels fast. The President is right in assuming that political opponents may try to exploit such incidents to their advantage.

President Sirisena is, perhaps, the first leader who made a personal appeal to the Trade Unions in this fashion to behave themselves without harassing opponents. For this he should receive the commendations of even those who oppose him. We have seen some leaders in the past who even encouraged such acts. One recalls JRJ, during his 1977 General Election campaign, famously declaring that he would give the police one week’s leave after his victory. The UNP mobsters took their cue and went on the rampage targeting political opponents resulting in death and destruction.

It is in this context that the President’s gesture should be evaluated. His upbringing in a rural environment where violence is abhorred and also being a strong Buddhist may have played a part in the Presidential admonition.

Sri Lanka has a murky history of political violence which began following the 1970 victory of the United Front Government and reached a nadir during the infamous Wayamba election. This violence also seeped into state sector organisations with Trade Unions members of the victorious party settling scores with their rivals. The worse though is the dismissal from service of those who were perceived to be supporters of the outgoing Government. This, needless to say, would virtually throw those so victimized onto the streets without the means of a livelihood which would also affect the lives of their family members besides other consequences.

It has been the common practice in this country that whenever an election is over the trade unions of the victorious political party take control of the affairs of their organisations and have a say in the appointments and dismissals. This state of affairs occurred under all Governments and it is about time this vicious cycle ends.

True, there may have been arbitrary appointments under the defeated Government and also arbitrary dismissals of those who now seek to turn the tables. Hence, some may justify their actions on these grounds. However, saner counsel must prevail and alternative solutions found instead of the Trade Union members being allowed to take the law into their hands. There was once a Supreme Court case where workers who were similarly dismissed following an election, from a State sector organisation, obtaining relief in the form of reinstatement, the apex Court holding that the workers’ Fundamental Rights were violated.

Besides, such mayhem no doubt would lead to disruption of functions in the state organisations sometimes running into several weeks causing financial loss. Perhaps Sri Lanka is the only country where such a state of affairs prevailed which, no doubt, is a smear on our civilized status. Hence, the need for some drastic action to be taken to put an end to such conduct.

Leaders of all political parties should get together in finding a solution to this problem. A consensus should be reached between them to get their respective Trade Unions to hold their guns after every election. Also prompt deployment of the police, or even the Army is called for at State sector organisations soon after a poll is concluded, to prevent unrest. This is because, more often than not, there is also damage caused to state property when clashes occur.

True, most of the mayhem is indulged in by workers in lower rungs whose enthusiasm following the victory of their party at an election gets the better of them. To a certain extent their actions could be justified in a context where they themselves had been victims- denied of pay hikes and promotions. One recalls the mayhem that ensued, particularly in State sector media organisations, following the UNP victory in 1977, where even senior staff was subjected to various forms of harassment. To her credit former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, during her 1994 election campaign, placed as a priority ‘a no hands on your rivals’ message which mercifully prevented a repetition of 1977. In future, all leaders should prioritize this message from their election platforms. This will, to a large extent, prevent the sort of anarchy that we have been witnessing in Government offices after all major elections.


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