By FUTA –
The FUTA Trade Union Action launched on the 4th of July 2012 has entered its 3rd month, and there is much speculation concerning the current status of negotiations between FUTA and the government. In order to address some of the misleading information regarding FUTA’s current position, we wish to clearly clarify our stand at this present moment.
During the last two months, FUTA’s demands have been gaining wide, public support. FUTA has managed to awaken public interest in the current status of education in the country. This has been evident in the public response to FUTA’s signature campaign where up to date, 150,000 signatures have been collected and in the support FUTA has been receiving from other civil society organizations. FUTA was also able to organise a massively successful rally on the 23rd of August at Hyde Park, Colombo where many individuals and organisations publicly expressed their solidarity with FUTA’s campaign to save state education.
FUTA at the same time has been engaging with the government in discussions to resolve the ongoing trade union action. At this point FUTA has engaged in 6 rounds of discussions with government representatives including Minister of Higher Education, Secretary to the President, Mr Lalith Weeratunga and Minister Basil Rajapakse. At the last meeting with Minister Basil Rajapakse the government proposed the idea of a cabinet paper to express the government policy on education spending, the problem of recruitment and retention of qualified academics, university autonomy and politicisation. The Minister also indicated that rescinding arbitrary and unconstitutional circulars can be facilitated, while he agreed to suspend the CIMA programme and to initiate a consultative process for the leadership training of new university entrants. A meeting with Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Treasury Secretary to finalise the salary issues was also promised. This fell short of our comprehensive demands.
However, the only concrete action to emerge from these series of discussions is a Note to Cabinet on state policy on education presented by Minister Basil Rajapakse and Minister S.B Dissanayake. This was only one aspect of the solution proposed at the last meeting. The Cabinet note is extremely disappointing for two major reasons: the government has failed to even accept at a policy level the need to increase education expenditure in line with the international benchmark of 6%. Also, a permanent solution to the salary issue has not been addressed in the proposal to establish a special category for university teachers. Although Minister Basil Rajapakse indicated that the committee to look into the establishment of a special category would be headed by either the President’s Secretary or a Senior Minister, this has been replaced in the Cabinet note by Minister S.B. Dissanayake. This is an extremely worrying development since Minister Dissanayake has consistently maintained an intransigent position with regard to resolving the problems of university teachers.
FUTA cannot at this stage be satisfied with anything less than a set of clear commitments from the government regarding education policy and addressing the long standing salary anomalies of university teachers.
FUTA also wishes to point out to the public that as an organisation that respects democratic principles, decisions such as continuation of trade union action are not made by a few, but in consultation with its membership. Therefore, it requests the public not to believe statements made by some sections of the government regarding the status of the trade union action. These are deliberately misleading statements made in attempts to turn the public against FUTA. We reiterate that the FUTA trade union action will continue until our demands are met.
Further, FUTA reiterates that it is mindful of its national responsibilities and the trust that the public has placed on FUTA. Each signature that has been placed on the petition, each letter of support, each statement in public, each blessing that individual citizens of Sri Lanka have bestowed on academics in the streets is of tremendous value. FUTA will not betray that trust and belief and has pledged its commitment to see this struggle through to victory. That victory will not be just for the academic community but for all Sri Lankans who value education and who wish for a better future for the children and youth of this country.
Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri
30th August 2012
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