Workers from nearly 40 trade unions in Sri Lanka, employed in sectors including banking, public health and ports, on Wednesday went on a strike, despite an executive order from President Ranil Wickremesinghe declaring many services “essential”, to effectively outlaw protests by workers in those sectors.
Doctors at Sri Lanka’s National Hospital in Colombo said they would be available for emergency cases alone. The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) asked its members to stay away from private practice, too. While buses in capital Colombo plied in several central areas, banks limited their services to a few hours in the morning.
Teacher unions said members would display black flags at schools, while other union leaders warned that they would organise more protests and demonstrations in the coming days, and continue reporting sick at work.
Niroshan Gorakanage, spokesman for a port workers’ union told the media: “This is a one-day match. This will be followed by a test match soon. Therefore, the authorities must respond if they want to avoid it.”
The workers are protesting against the Wickremesinghe government’s recent policies aimed at economic reform, ahead of a likely $2.9 million package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In preparation for the programme that Sri Lanka hopes will bail its economy out of last year’s painful crash, the government raised taxes two-fold, and tripled the electricity tariff, which workers across sectors say have begun hitting them hard. Especially with inflation persisting over 50%, families are struggling to make ends meet.
The protesting workers also criticised authorities for postponing the local government elections, scheduled on Match 9 earlier, citing the “lack of funds”.
The mass trade union action comes even as the political opposition slams the government for postponing elections in an “anti-democratic” move.
The Wickremesinghe government has also come under attack for police force being unleashed at protesters.