Though we hear and talk a lot about human rights, responsibility ranks among our noblest virtues. Major religions teach and we need to be aware that we are responsible for the welfare and well-being of all people, specially the oppressed people enslaved in the poverty trap. Beyond that, in this modern era, we are also responsible for all creatures—ranging from elephants to ants. We are responsible for the oceans and rivers, trees and plants, the air and the delicate balance in our ecology.
It is in this perspective that we need to see the moral issues involved when people or groups - expected by society to act with the virtue of responsibility - abuse the new freedom that Sri Lanka now enjoys. They over-emphasise rights and often resort to strikes which cause more suffering to millions of people who are already suffering more than they can bear.
On Wednesday, Ceylon Electricity Board employees or unions put themselves into a dark pit instead of providing light. The unions had some justification for their protest outside the Mulleriyawa police station, but not for the 12-hour work to rule, work stoppage, strike or whatever it may be called. Thousands of innocent families including infants and schoolchildren were the innocent victims. Electricity supplies were cut from about 11 p.m. on Wednesday till 2 p.m. yesterday. Most children in the area did not go to school while adults also said they could not get even a few hours of sleep and their days’ work commitment might be seriously affected.
The CEB union say two employees had been sent to disconnect the electricity supply of a tyre shop at Angoda. The Union say the CEB men were assaulted by the trader who allegedly has some strong political connection. Later on Wednesday the CEB staff held a protest outside the Mulleriyawa police station demanding that the trader be arrested. The Police officer in charge assured he would take action within 24 hours but the trade unions apparently suffered a blackout in their sense of responsibility and as a result tens of thousands of people suffered for it. During the blackout at Himbutana a fire erupted on a high tension post. Residents said that for more than 90 minutes they called the CEB’s area office but there was no response. Finally the police came in and with the help of area residents, brought the fire under control. Reports say the CEB unions were planning to call a country-wide general strike from yesterday but a sense of responsibility prevailed and it was averted.
Since the era of the industrial revolution, strikes have been recognised as a right of workers. But it has been a last resort specially in essential services such as health and power supply. Tragically during the past few months it is the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) that has been setting a bad example and showing a lack of responsibility by launching wildcat strikes at a time when the country is facing one of its worst dengue epidemics.
Last Wednesday Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne—who is virtually at war with the GMOA-- presided at a meeting of a new movement of medical doctors. The GMOA, with a membership of about 20,000, often boasts it is one of the most powerful trade unions in Asia but many patients believe it may be one of the most irresponsible if not ruthless while doctors must surely be aware of the fall that comes
Almost daily we see the GMOA protesting or provoking students to protest against the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM). Last Monday the government took over the controversial Neville Fernando hospital which is attached to SAITM and the President has offered to come more than half way but the GMOA appears to be wanting to cut off its pound of flesh.