Sri Lanka bus drivers back-track on strike threat
ECONOMYNEXT – Private bus drivers in Sri Lanka backtracked from a threat to extend their strike for a second day Saturday as the government refused to give into their demands to withdraw enhanced traffic fines for serious offences.
Government minister Chandima Weerakkody said the government would not give into the demands as the fines were aimed at reducing traffic fatalities and making the roads safer.
The minister said the strike by private bus operators and taxi drivers was politically motivated while opposition members loyal to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa said they expressed solidarity with the striking drivers.
After wowing to keep up the strike for a second straight day, the private bus operators made a surprise U-turn on Friday and revoked their own decision without winning any concessions from the government.
Earlier, the police had fired teargas to break up a protest by three-wheel drivers who held up trains at Negombo. The government also gave strict instructions to the police to deal firmly with any saboteurs disrupting public transport.
About 6,000 privately-owned buses were on strike Friday at the government’s proposal to raise the average traffic fine of 500 rupees to 25,000 rupees from January.
Many taxi drivers and rickshaw drivers are also on strike over the hike.
The strike forced the state-run CTB to deploy an additional 1,000 vehicles and increase their frequency, an official said, while the railways are also operating extra trains.
"The fines are unfair," said Sarath Kumara, a spokesman for a private bus company, threatening to keep up the strike unless the government relents. By Friday evening, the government was adamant that it will keep the new fines.
The Colombo National Hospital spokeswoman Pushpa Soysa said there had been a sharp decline in the number of road accident victims admitted to hospital since the enhanced traffic fines were announced in the November 10 budget.
The number of casualties admitted to the Colombo National hospital dropped to about 250 a day from the previous daily average of 350, Soysa said.
Last week private operators accused the government of letting politicians and other dignitaries get away with traffic violations.
President Maithripala Sirisena promised to personally intervene and initiate legal action against VIP traffic offenders.
About 3,000 people are killed on Sri Lankan roads annually while another 500,000 people are wounded in motor accidents. More than a fifth of the injured require hospitalisation lasting over a week.
(COLOMBO, Dec 2, 2015 – Upadate II)