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Wednesday October 20th, 2021

Sri Lanka to reopen 5,000 schools, but teachers on strike refuse to budge

Schools remain closed in Sri Lanka as COVID-19 cases continue to surge

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has decided to reopen some 5,000 schools with a maximum of 200 students each over the next two to three weeks, a top minister said, though school teachers and principals have yet to call off a two-month-long strike.

A policy decision in this regard was taken at a meeting held at the health ministry with the national COVID-19 task force, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters on Thursday (16).

The government also expects to reopen preschools and primary schools (grades 1 to 6) in the near future, he added.

However, Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin said teachers will not resume work until long-standing salary anomalies in their service are not resolved.

Trade unions of teachers and principals have been on strike since July 11 and have withdrawn from online education and from issuing results of the GCE Ordinary Level exam held early this year over the issue.

Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said despite financial difficulties, a special allowance of 5,000 rupees will be granted to teachers and principals who report to duty in September and October, the months in which the government plans to hold the GCE Advanced Level and Grade 5 scholarship exams.

“The Secretary to the Ministry of Education has reportedly said that if principals don’t hand over the applications for the exams, they will look at alternatives. I wish to ask him if that’s a threat,” said Stalin.

“This can be resolved only through discussion,” he added.

The teachers’ and principals’ strike is continuing for the 67th day today (17).

Minister Gunawardena declared school teachers’ and principals’ services as a “closed service” on August 31.

Both teachers’ and principals’ services are under the public service. But declaring them a closed service will allow the government to treat teachers and principals separately from the rest of the public service when resolving their demands of salary anomalies, wages, transfers, and other benefits.

This will also mean that cadres from the teachers and principals services cannot be transferred to any other public services.

“The implementation of the national decision to close down the teachers’ service will be implemented in the next few months,” Gunawardena said at the time, adding that the cabinet had decided to issue a gazette before November 20 declaring the services a closed service.

“All these decisions are taken to provide solutions to existing problems and the decisions are made taking into consideration the 4.3 million children in the country and their teachers who will pave the way for their future.”

The closed service move comes in line with the recommendation by a four-member cabinet subcommittee which looked into the salary anomalies of teachers and principals.

The minister also said implementation of the salary revisions will be done in stages through a 2022 budget proposal. Full implementation will be done in the next four years.

A decision was taken on August 30 to implement these measures in parts before the next four years to find a permanent solution.

Teachers, however, have rejected the offer.

“But we do not accept the 5,000-rupee allowance. We want our salary anomalies to be fixed as a part of the previous Subodhini committee report. We don’t accept these increments or allowances otherwise we will continue our strikes if that does not happen,” Stalin said.

However, a trade union affiliated with the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the SLPP Education Services Association, said with Basil Rajapaksa taking the Financial Minister position, they believe a better solution will be provided.

“We request teachers and principals to resume duties concerning students who are facing the exams this year,” SLPP Education Services Association organiser Sisira Kumara Rathnayaka told reporters.

“This is not supporting the government, but rather doing our duty as responsible teachers,” he added. (Colombo/Sep16/2021)


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