Sri Lanka Crisis: Workers to go on strike to pressure government to resign

Thousands of Sri Lankans have protested outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office in recent weeks, demanding that he and his brother, Mahinda, who is prime minister, quit for leading the island into its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948

FPJ Web Desk | Updated on: Thursday, April 28, 2022, 12:18 PM IST

People shout slogans against the government during an ongoing protest outside president's office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, April 23, 2022 | AP
People shout slogans against the government during an ongoing protest outside president's office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, April 23, 2022 | AP

Over 1,000 trade unions in Sri Lanka across multiple sectors have planned a massive island-wide one-day token strike for Thursday in support of the ongoing wave of protests against the government, a spokesman for a union alliance said.

Convenor of the collective of unions Ravi Kumudesh told reporters that the campaign aims to pressure the government to resign.

Unions representing ports, railway, petroleum, health, banking and education sectors will take part in the strike, he said.

Kumudesh said about 50 percent of hospitals and employees will also join the strike without disrupting hospital services. Health workers on duty are to be dressed in black and engaged in emergency services. He also said that the hospital workers would go on strike for two hours from 12.00 noon to 2.00 pm.

Protests and marches will be held in front of all hospitals from 12.00 noon today and protests have also been organized in cities across the country.

Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy with huge foreign debts and a shortage of foreign currency, causing shortages of imported essential goods like fuel and food.

Protesters who have crowded the streets since March 31 hold President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his powerful family responsible. Government officials have blamed Russia’s war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic for the crisis and say they have been discussing rescue plans and loan repayment with the International Monetary Fund, Chinese officials and others.

Protestors around the country demand that both the president and prime minister resign.

“The general public is protesting asking the government to go home,” said Kumudesh.

“President Rajapksa, due to his incompetence, ego and ignorance, has dragged the citizens of this country into a hole they’re struggling to get out of,” he said.

Over 1,000 unions will join the token strike planned for tomorrow to extend support to public protests, said Kumudesh.

“So far, no union has gone against the ongoing protests. On Thursday, all the worker forces in this country will protest against the government. We will raise black flags and all essential services will be carried out dressed in black,” he said.

“We ask the government to not to escalate this union strike to a continuous protest and leave for good,” he added.

Kumudesh said the organisation plans to expand the protest into a hartal on May 06 if the government does not listen to the public demand and step down.

Sri Lanka earlier suspended repayment on its foreign debts, $7 billion of which was due this year.

It has foreign reserves of less than $1 billion, depleting available foreign currency. The resulting shortages of imported essentials like fuel, cooking gas, medicine and milk left people standing in lines for hours to buy limited stock.

The whole Cabinet except the president and prime minister resigned in early April, and the president invited opposition parties for a unity government. But opposition parties refused to be part of a government headed by the Rajapaksas.

Their family have dominated nearly every aspect of life in Sri Lanka for most of the last 20 years.

The opposition is divided and weak and has been unable to show a majority and take control of Parliament.

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Published on: Thursday, April 28, 2022, 12:18 PM IST