Workers in this country seem to think that united they fall and divided they stand. Else, there is no reason why they should pull in different directions, blinded by partisan politics.
Today, the government is expected to bring a large number workers belonging to its trade unions to Colombo for a rally in support of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This show of strength comes on the eve of a UNP-JVP instigated go-slow in the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), the Water Board and the Port.
The JVP-UNP trade union combine is abusing a salary dispute in these institutions to gain some political mileage. Having failed at successive elections, the JVP and the UNP are trying to settle their political scores with the government at the expense of the public. They crippled the petroleum sector recently on the pretext of a work-to-rule campaign and the people were left high and dry. The government undertook to effect the promised pay hikes early next year. Why can`t they wait for one and a half months? We do not want to be told that they are broke and desperate for a salary increase they are among the highest paid and most pampered State employees. On the other hand, those who are known for lethargy, inefficiency and callousness in dealing with the public must learn to exercise patience themselves. One cannot even report a fault to the CEB for hours let alone have it rectified. The same goes for the Water Board, which takes a month of Sundays to attend to urgent repairs.
The strategy of the JVP and UNP unions is clear. They are pressuring the government to grant the pay hikes at issue hoping to flaunt them claiming they have brought the government to its knees. In the alternative, they want to plunge the country into chaos. They are desperate for some kind of victory over the government with weeks to go for a national election. Workers have, lured by a trade union carrot, walked into a political trap!
The government has, true to form, blundered by creating a situation for bankrupt political elements to exploit workers` grievances. It ought to have paid what was promised to the aforesaid categories of workers. It granted a pay hike only to the State bank employees much to the consternation of others who are also entitled to salary increases once in three years. However, now that the government has undertaken to settle their dues, the warring unions must desist from muscle-flexing. For, at the receiving end of their disruptive activities are the people who pay their salaries.
Imagine the suffering that disruptions to essential services would cause to the hapless public for no fault of theirs. Bankrupt politicians may derive some perverse pleasure from the people`s predicament hoping that the public resentment would result in a loss of votes for the ruling party. But, if they think the public will side with them and curse the government for not granting their demands, they are sadly mistaken. They are sure to incur the wrath of the public more. They should remember that during the recent CPC go-slow, hit by a fuel scarcity, irate consumers demanded that the government restore the fuel supply by hook or by crook. Some of them even suggested that the army be deployed for that purpose. If the people are denied water and electricity, the situation will be far worse. They will demand desperate remedies.
Instead of bringing its backers to Colombo, the government should concentrate on a plan of action to ensure that essential services will be free from disruptions. It is the duty of the government to make pipe-borne water, fuel and electricity freely available and see to it that ports remain operative.
Meanwhile, workers must be ashamed of being pawns in the hands of crafty politicians of all hues for expediency. It is not political battles they should get involved in but genuine trade union struggles devoid of political agendas to win reasonable demands and protect their rights. So long as they offer their services as storm troopers to the UNP, the JVP, the SLFP and other political parties, they will be without the sympathy of the discerning masses.