Other unions threaten to join teachers on strike
By Norman Palihawadane
Principals have informed the Secretary to the Ministry of Education that they would not report to work when schools reopen on Thursday (Oct 21).
Secretary of Ceylon Principals Union (CPU) Piyasiri Fernando In a letter addressed to the Education Ministry Secretary, says that the member of CPU would not report to work as government has not come up with a solution to the issue of teacher-principal salary anomalies.
The letter further says that the principals, deputy principals and assistant principals of national schools and schools coming under the provincial councils would not report to work on Oct 21, as a move related to their ongoing trade union action with teachers.
General Secretary of the JVP-led Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union, Mahinda Jayasinghe said that the Teachers’ and Principals’ Trade Union Alliance had decided not to report since the issue of teacher-principal salary anomalies could not be resolved before the reopening of schools.
Jayasinghe said that the government should take action to rectify the salary anomalies affecting teachers and principals before reopening schools.
Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said that their last week discussion between Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the teachers’ and principals’ trade unions at the Prime Minister’s office ended without a solution.
Stalin said that they had discussed the matter with representatives of the government for over three and a half hours. The government offered to grant a salary increment proposed by the ministerial subcommittee to rectify the salary anomaly in two stages, but only a one-ninth of the total increment was to be given in January 2022, Stalin said.
“We asked for the increment in one go. The government has time till Oct 21 to take a decision. We had a discussion with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday for over three hours. Secretary to the Treasury and the Director General of National Budget Department kept on saying there were no funds,” he said.
President of the All Ceylon United Teachers’ Union Ven. Yalwela Pannasekara Thera said that the teachers and principals had decided to launch a continuous strike if the schools were reopened while the teachers’ and principals’ salary issues remained unresolved.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Trade Union Alliance (SLTUA) has threatened to join school teachers and principals who are currently on strike for 93 days running over unresolved salary anomalies.
Inter-Company Employees’ Union Chairman and former JVP MP Wasantha Samarasinghe said that the SLTDA, after a series of discussions, has agreed to support the teachers’ cause.
“It has been over three months and the government had enough time to solve the teachers’ and principals’ salary anomaly. After several rounds of talks with all unions, we have decided to support the strike until a solution is given,” he said.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said that the government agreed to increase salaries in two stages as a solution to the struggle by the trade unions to rectify teacher-principal salary anomalies. “The government is sensitive to the problem of teachers and principals and we accept that salary anomalies should be rectified. Yet we have to understand the prevailing situation. This situation does not warrant us to grant teachers’ requests at once as the revenues to Treasury are limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Prime Minister said.
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New COVID variants
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.
Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.
Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.
“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.
Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.
Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.
“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.
Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.
“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.
Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.
“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”
Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.
“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”
Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge
Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.
This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.
A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka
The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).
UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.
Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.
President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.
The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.
Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.
Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.
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