CEB workers who launched a 48-hour strike action demanding immediate rectification of anomalies in their salaries smash coconuts invoking the wrath of gods against the government during a demonstration opposite the CEB Headquarters in Colombo yesterday.
The country’s electricity service was left rudderless as the entire Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) workforce joined the 48-hour trade union action that commenced at noon yesterday, unionists claimed warning that there would be none to attend to any power-failures or service related matters till Friday noon.
Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Workers’ Union Secretary Ranjan Jayalal told The Island their two-day boycott demanding the immediate rectification of salary anomalies was successful with thousands of CEB workers joining the strike action.
The main demand of the CEB union was to rectify salary anomalies. In addition they were demanding an inquiry into irregularities in the CEB employees Employment Provident Fund (EPF) investments and the move to increase electricity tariffs.
As the strike stretches into the second day and work gets affected, cities may face power cuts as most of these workers are technical employees who are on field duty, so their strike could severely affect the power supply, especially in rural areas.
Jayalal said that out of 24,000 employees in the CEB, only 1,200 were working and therefore all power stations had been forced to shut down by yesterday evening and this might cause a total black out at anytime till the strike ends.
Now the Ministry was planning to hire private contractors to run the electricity board at a higher cost, he alleged.
Jayalal said that their trade union action was successful and they would file a complaint at Financial Crimes Investigation Department (FCID) today to investigate the CEB employees EPF fund misappropriation case.
He said no repair work would be carried in the case of a breakdowns or power failures except at government hospitals, during the strike.
The salary scales of administrative officers at the CEB had been increased on numerous occasions, but the salary scales of lower level employees had remained unchanged, he added.
Jayalal said that they expected the government to respond by noon on Friday and was adamant that special committees should not be appointed to resolve their issues.
“The corruption within the CEB is larger than the recently concluded ‘sil redi’ case. Because of huge financial frauds the consumers have to pay higher bills to cover up the losses incurred by the fraud and corruption in the CEB. As a Union we will not allow the government to increase the electricity bills by even a cent,” he said.
“We had discussions with the subject minister and other officials and we did everything we could, hoping our demands will be met. We resorted to strike action because nothing happened. It is now the minister’s turn to speak up and reveal to the public the burden of corruption palmed off on them by the CEB,” Jayalal said.
The union had no political or personal agendas and what they were looking for was a change in the salary ratio, he added.
Power and Renewable Energy Ministry Director (Development) Sulakshana Jayawardene told The Island that local electricity failures had been reported from several areas yesterday but there were no power cuts imposed by the CEB at present.
The Norochcholai Power Plant which was the country’s only coal power plant was at risk as many employees had left the premises due to the ongoing strike, he said.
Coal/thermal power had become the main electricity generating method due to the drastic reduction of hydro-power as the country got no rain at all during the past few months. Therefore the Norochcholai power plant had become the most important power plant which helps to stabilise the country’s daily power requirement. On two previous occasions, the country faced total black outs due to the failure of the Norochcholai power plant.
The majority of CEB employees were on strike but the CEB however managed to provide services smoothly so far, Jayawardene said yesterday evening.
When asked whether there was any preparedness to face power failures or break downs, Director Jayawardene said the CEB engineers were at work as well as several other employees and therefore they would be able to manage.
The union on strike had not yet sought a discussion with the Minister but they have had discussions with the Minister on several occasions before the strike was launched on Wednesday, he said.
Jayawardene also noted that several committees had been appointed to study and make recommendations on the salary discrepancies of non-engineering staff and those recommendations would be implemented shortly. There was a decision to increase the electricity tariff; the ministry said adding that the CEB internal audit, CID and Labour Department were conducting investigations into investment of the EPF money of employees.
Therefore the strike was not justifiable, he added.