ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers have decided not to give in to a salary increase demand of teachers’ trade unions due to the current economic conditions, a cabinet spokesman said.
The cabinet decision comes as a strike by teachers and principals have crippled online education of government schools for 23 days running. A request by the Education Ministry Secretary for teachers and supporting staff to report to work from Monday (02) has been largely neglected due to the ongoing trade union action.
The cabinet had discussed the demands of the teachers’ union and the government will address the salary issue of the teachers along with all other government servants in the 2022 budget, cabinet spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.
“A decision will be taken in the budget parallel to the increase of salaries and cost of living of other government servants in the next budget,” Rambukwella told the weekly cabinet briefing on Tuesday (3).
“When you resolve the issue of one sector, it will create more troubles in other sectors. We see a group is trying to exploit this with political motives,” he added.
Over 240,000 school teachers and 15,000 principals in Sri Lanka have been on strike for 23 days running over the question of salary anomalies that they say goes back 24 years – an issue that successive governments have failed to resolve. Daily protests in different parts of the island attracting large crowds of teachers have led to fears of new outbreaks of COVID-19.
Teacher unions have said the salary increase was something the government promised during the run up to the presidential polls and they are asking the government to fulfill only what it had promised.
Teachers have already stopped online teaching and did not resume the primary learning method for hundreds of thousands of students amid the pandemic, despite repeated requests by the government.
“We expect teachers, as learned people, will understand the current economic situation. In principle, we agree with their requests, which were included in our election manifesto,” Rambukwella said.
He further said the government never cut the salaries of teachers during pandemic lockdowns despite a nearly 50 percent drop in the government’s tax revenue.
The education budget was cut down by a third this year to 126 billion rupees, nearly 1 percent of the island nation’s gross domestic product.
Education Ministry Secretary Professor Kapila Perera has said the government will have to spend an additional sum of 67.8 billion rupees to increase salaries of teachers and principals according to the recommendations.
According to demands of teachers’ associations, if their salaries were increased by 15 per cent, it would be calculated that the salary of a given teacher will increase by Rs.10,000.
Education minister Prof G L Peiris told the parliament that the government is “unable to provide an instant solution”.
The government also said it has not taken any decision to suspend any teachers who have not reported to work since Monday.
“Both the president and the finance minister have pledged to look into the reasonable issues of teacher unions. But due to the country’s economic situation, we have limited funding. We believe the teachers will realise this and report to the work in the future,” Co-Cabinet spokesman Ramesh Pathirana told the weekly cabinet briefing. (Colombo/Aug03/2021)