By Shamala Kumar,University of Peradeniya –
Three university academics, who are currently under State patronage, Jagath Wellawatta (Chairperson, State Mortgage Investment Bank formerly, National Child Protection Authority, Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau), Rohan Rajapakse (Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education; formerly Executive Director, Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research), and Ranjith Bandara (Chairperson, Sri Lanka Foundation Institute and Senior Economic Adviser, formerly, Director of the Financial Service Cluster, Strategic Enterprise Management Agency) discussed the trade union action on the evening of the 1st of June, 2012. It is disappointing to note that FUTA was excluded from this discussion.
The panel agreed that FUTA was acting beyond its mandate as a trade union by demanding change in government policy on education and higher education. This perspective however is false because these policies affect how universities are run, and therefore directly affect the university teachers’ capacity to serve their mandate to society, through the provision of quality education. Therefore to say that the issues addressed are only tangentially related to our jobs is a misrepresentation of our role. It is also false because it is not unusual for unions to have broader demands than those related to pay. In Sri Lanka it self several teachers unions, the GMOA, and other trade unions have addressed policy level issues to safeguard their professions. Internationally also teachers’ unions are addressing such issues. To illustrate, currently in theUnited Kingdom, the University and College Union has two principle campaigns that fight against funding cuts and the privatization of tertiary education. In Australia, the National Tertiary Education Industry Union campaigns to increase funding for Australian higher education, and in India, the All India Federation of University and College Teachers in their June 2012 newsletter lists their struggles against commercialization of higher education (although this seems minor in contrast to their main campaign for increased pay). Finally in theUnited States, the American Federation of Teachers includes in their objectives the goal of campaigning to ensure that students receive what they need to succeed and to ensure that teachers receive what they need to facilitate learning. As the university system in theUnited Statesis not under an umbrella organization, a parallel organization to FUTA is not available. In each of these cases, unions are addressing policy that directly affects their ability to perform their job today and in the future. Addressing policy and the needs of future generations of students is fully within the mandate of FUTA as these policies hinder our ability to do our jobs.