ECONOMYNEXT – Railway trade union action in Sri Lanka resulted in losses amounting to 25 million rupees over the last week of December as passengers rode free in the absence of ticket issuers at railway stations, an official said, though unionists claimed that the figure was much higher.
The Station Masters Union launched a strike from December 22 to 28 over 10 demands including coverage allowances and overtime compensation. With no one left to issue tickets, the five-day strike allowed passengers to enjoy virtually endless rides.
The union also withdrew from transporting essential items like fuel to the airport, cement and flour, while station Masters refrained from accepting parcels transported by train.
Railways General Manager Dhammika Jayasundra told reporters on Monday (03) that the strike cost the department five million rupees a day in revenue.
Witnesses said passengers used trains to travel long distances such as Beliatta, from the country’s deep south, to the commercial capital of Colombo, without paying a fare.
Chairman of the Station Masters Association Sumedha Someratne, however, said the railways general manager has understated the loss.
“Before COVID-19, we would operate around 300 to 400 trains, but now there are only around 125 trains running. If all those trains were running today, taking into account that the strike was held during the festive season, the loss per day would have been 20 million,’’ Someratne told EconomyNext.
The strike was called off following a discussion with State Minister of Transport Dilum Amunugama. However, Someratne said that solutions were coming at a very slow pace, and warned of future strikes.
“We will wait until changes are made, but if things don’t turn around we will have to take union action again,” he said. (Colombo/Jan.03/2022)