Mercifully, the 48-hour work stoppage by members of the Railway Trade Union Alliance (RTUA) from Thursday midnight was called off on Saturday night with normal train services resuming from Sunday morning.
RTUA convener Lal Ariyaratne threatened to continue with the work stoppage every Friday until the authorities granted their demands, which included the rectification of salary anomalies. He said railway guards, engine drivers, controllers, station masters and supervisory managers took part in the strike action while even having the audacity to say that the government should be held responsible for any inconvenience caused to the commuters.
The work stoppage left tens of thousands office workers and other commuters stranded and in disarray either on their way to Colombo or other parts of the country or on their way home being hard pressed to find alternative modes of transport.
When Sri Lanka was gradually raising its head again, In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks which left more than 250 dead, some 500 injured and the subsequent riots in the North-Western Province came this work stoppage, which has resulted in a Rs.19-million loss to the Railways Department.
Is the government so weak that it is unable to put its foot down and ban such mindless trade union action holding innocent people to ransom? It was not long ago, that we had the Ven. Athureliya Rathana Thera doing so with his fast unto death and that of BBS general secretary, Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera threatening to march from Kandy to Colombo if his demands were not met. How long can the government allow such disruptive activities to continue? When will this government, from which much was expected, take the side of the ordinary people without allowing them to be pushed and pulled by mischief makers with vested interests?
Amid all this confusion and commotion comes the story of passengers on an Ambepussa-bound train from Colombo Fort becoming the first victims of the railway strike.
Imagine the plight of the passengers returning home when suddenly, without any warning, the engine driver walks away even before the strike was due to begin saying he had to leave his post early because the train was scheduled to reach its destinations after midnight.
Fortunately for the rail passengers, they were relieved of their agony when a sympathetic engine driver took the train to its destination after noticing the people rushing around to find alternate transport which at that time of the night was not going to be easy.
But nearly all the other long distance trains were stopped partway with the engine drivers leaving the trains behind to join the strike action probably in the belief that the more passengers left in the lurch and made to suffer, the better it is for their cause. This is the ruse adopted by most trade unions such as those belonging to private bus operators and the Government Medical Officers Union (GMOA) as a means of pressuring the government to grant their demands by holding hundreds of thousands of people to ransom and that too for no fault of theirs.
At a time Sri Lanka is making every effort to escape from its economic woes comes the news of the government submitting a supplementary estimate to obtain funds to purchase a vehicle for the Opposition Leader and the deputy minister of Lands and the renovation of Minister Lakshman Kiriella’s official residence. How can the government justify such a huge drain on Sri Lanka’s coffers coming at a time when a trade union is accusing the government of not rectifying their salary anomalies and the victims of the April 21 attack still waiting for their compensation. What kind of double-acting is this with more and more burdens being heaped on the ordinary people while our politicians are living luxuries lives.
Meanwhile, in a similar vein are two news items on the front page of the June 18 Daily Mirror one story highlighted the death of an 11-month old infant, who was reported to have died of malnutrition, clearly the result of abject poverty while the other was about Rs.6.7 million being wasted for the ceremony to felicitate Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne on his appointment as the Vice Chairman of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
When will the people’s representatives ever work for those who elected them and the country they claim is their motherland instead of only thinking of themselves?