ECONOMYNEXT – Academics in Sri Lanka are on a strike for the second day running against an International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed personal income tax hike, with academic activities of a number of state universities put on hold as a result.
The strike will continue till March 15 when, according to a collective of a trade unions and professional associations representing a number of sectors including higher education, the economy will see a total shut down if the government does not resolve their grievance.
The privately owned NewsFirst network reported on Friday March 10 that academic activities in state universities around the island have been disrupted by the strike.
Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA) Chairman Shyam Banneheka was quoted by NewsFirst as saying that all members of FUTA have stopped engaging in academic activities for the second day running.
“We remind the government once again to provide a speedy solution to this without letting this situation continue,” Banneheka told the news network.
He added that FUTA will join the other unions and professional associations in intensifying the trade union action by mid next week if the matter is not resolved and that the government must take responsibility for those inconvenienced by it.
High-income earning public servants in higher education, medical, banking, ports and other sectors have already threatened to up the ante in ongoing trade union action against the new progressive tax regime.
FUTA media spokesman Charudaththa Illangasinghe told reporters on Thursday March 09 that a decisive moment has come in their campaign.
“There can be no more waiting or biding of time. A decision has to be taken by March 15 or there will be no more water supply, no electricity and no ships coming in. Universities will remain closed,” he said.
Illangasinghe urged the government to introduce a fairer taxation system, adding that the unions are still open to discussion.
“This is the first switch that we switched off,” he said, referring to recent protests organised against the tax policy.
“We will turn a new switch off every day and on the 15th it’ll be time to turn the main switch off,” he added, warning the government not to be caught off guard or caught unawares and claim that people were inconvenienced by the trade union action.
“Don’t blame our doctors, our banks, our port. The government must take responsibility,” said Illangasinghe.
Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva told parliament on Thursday that 17 ships en route to the Colombo Port had turned back as a result of a recent anti-tax protest organised by port unions. He also claimed that one protesting port worker earns over 170,000 rupees a month.
Seventeen ships turned back after Colombo Port anti-tax protests, claims minister
Trade unions and professional associations in Sri Lanka representing high income earners in the public and private sectors have been protesting a recent hike in personal income taxes that sees the cash-strapped government collect from anyone earning over 100,000 rupees a month.
Sri Lanka’s new tax regime has both its defenders and detractors. Critics who are opposed to progressive taxation said it serves as a disincentive to industry and capital which can be invested in business. They argue that a flat rate of taxation is implemented where everyone is taxed at the same rate.
Others, however, contend that the new taxes only affect some 10-12 percent of the population and, given the country’s economic situation, is necessary, if not vital.
Critics of the protesting workers argue that most of the workers earn high salaries that most ordinary people can only dream of, and though there may be some cases where breadwinners could be taxed more equitably, overall, Sri Lanka’s tax rates remain low and are not unfair. (Colombo/Mar10/2023)