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Teachers strike and some key issues



by Franklyn Amerasinghe

I have been greatly troubled by the current Covid situation like everyone else, not merely because of the disruption of the economy and our way of life, but also because of the set back to the education system and the aspirations of our children, who are our human capital for the future. Every country responded by organizing virtual classes, but to make such a system work you need the fullest co-operation, as well as relevant skills, on the part of the staff of each school. Since the smaller schools would naturally have less facilities, and the children also do not have much access to reliable means of connecting with the internet, there were always challenges which the government does not seem to have adequately addressed.

However, now the government has a new challenge which is more serious. The teachers of the government schools are on strike. But what is farcical and inexplicable is that the teachers are nevertheless being paid. A cardinal principle of a strike as confirmed by the Committee of experts of the ILO is that strikers are not paid. I spoke to a senior trade unionist who is active in the dispute and he had a good laugh at how the government has handled the situation by not putting the teachers under pressure to be sensible, by withdrawing their salary payments.

However, I see another aspect to this issue. The government seems to be agreeing that the teachers are due for an increase but cannot afford it, or cannot give it without pressures from other sectors to enhance their salaries also. A mess which has been caused by political interventions on the side of their affiliated unions in the past, or the mere fact that certain unions like those in the medical services can hold a gun to the heads of the decision makers and get results.

State education is not such an important issue for the politician who seems oblivious to the importance of a good education system to the development of the country? Let me ask the MP’s as to how many of them send their children to government schools or the state universities? The fact that they do not trust the system which they control, shows that their interests are not in line with national economic development but more attuned to giving their children opportunities elsewhere. For them if the free education system is failing, it is not their concern?

What caused the mess? I have examined a study done by the ILO in 1971, and the sad thing is that we commission studies but for political exigencies, or political reality, they discard these studies. The ILO study by Prof. Martin Segal, of the US on ” Government Pay Policies in Ceylon” shows that there was serious consideration paid to assessing the functional responsibilities of employees in pay structures up to about 1967 and attention was paid to job classifications. It is pointed out that economic factors were also taken into consideration but the value of a job was a guiding principle for an appropriate salary grading. The recommendations for a wage policy which was development oriented needed two characteristics:

1. “With respect to any general wage changes, it would have to take into account the need to limit consumption expenditures and to release resources for the purpose of investment.

2. It would seek to establish a structure of occupational wage and salary differentials that would facilitate and increase the supply of skill needed in the developing economy.”

The first recommendation concerns proper economic management and I am not competent to comment on this. However, with regard to the second recommendation, the need to have a structure of occupational wage and salary differentials is the important point for us to address from an industrial relations point of view. Having processes which are transparent and which will not be tampered with in an ad hoc manner to suit political will, inevitably leads to strike action, or at least de-motivation of employees which is as vicious a malady.

The study shows that there were in 1967, 61 job classifications and to a large extent the government has been guided by the need to tie salary differentials to functional responsibilities as well as skills which were needed. I believe there is still a Salaries and Cadres Commission which periodically assesses these differentials in a scientific manner. The government should take its hands off education as well other public services and rely on periodical studies which decide on across the board adjustments. There is a process I remember for appeals to be made and these should be heard and decisions taken by the Commissions Appellate process as final and conclusive, as happens under an arbitration award under the Industrial Disputes Act.

In fact I was commissioned some years ago by the ILO to produce a dispute settlement procedure for the public service and in consultation with unions of all political affiliations as well as heads of departments, we formulated a scheme which also recommended bringing public servants also under the coverage of the Industrial Disputes Act so that a dispute could be referred to an Industrial Court. A Cabinet paper was also submitted, but I believe although the then Ministers of Public Administration and Labour endorsed the move, and a Bill was drafted it was shot down by certain elements in that Cabinet who are now in the current Cabinet. The bottom line of their argument was that it took away their right to make arbitrary decisions!

Let me express my sympathy with the teachers who I sincerely believe deserve higher pay commensurate with their task to produce better leaders and skills for the country. They have ended up having to be on strike, which is deplored by all parents. Some of them see the strike as a ridiculous opportunity for the teachers to make money on tuition classes. They are also being paid their salaries in addition whilst the students are left to their own devices (which in most cases do not cover electronic devices)!

If one examines teachers’ salaries in the context of their being vested with the responsibility for producing the future professionals and the technicians of tomorrow, to carry the country forward, how much do they deserve to be paid? A sports coach in a school is paid ten times more than a Principal? Teachers must be paid well and not interfered with by politicians. Teachers are more important in a sensible society than politicians. The fact that many politicians have no educational qualifications may also be part of the problem?

How do you stop the strike? I would encourage the government to refrain from a political decision but to weigh the importance of the teacher in relation to the poor disadvantaged child and what would motivate the teachers to see his/her job as being one of great value to society and the economy. A proper assessment of their value should be made urgently and anomalies across the board should be eliminated on a scientific basis through the Salaries and Cadres Commission which should be independent and maybe the answer is to create the possibility of an Industrial Court such as under the Industrial Disputes Act to make a binding order on the merits.

he writer was commissioned by the ILO and Government to make proposals for a Dispute Settlement Process in the Public Sector a few years ago. He has served on many Wages Boards and was at one time a Presidential Adviser on HR to the Banking Sector. He also worked for the ILO and the Employers Federation of Ceylon).

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Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security



The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!



Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community



by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”


The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.


An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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