Dignity Of The Sri Lankan Academia And The Government Undermined
At a time the national university academics have taken professional action to ensure that the government will take its own assurances seriously with regard to full revision of their salaries, it is best that our countrymen are kept well informed of our grievances. We as academics are not only concerned about ourselves but also about the entire citizenry.
The need for a clear explanation on the current salary demands is warranted since people are made to believe that academics are agitating only for a 25-50% increase in the academic allowance, which would come to Rs.6000 for the junior level academics and Rs.10000 for the senior academics. Such an increase was promised in December 2009 only as a temporary measure until the revised scales are implemented as promised in January 2008 by the President.
We firmly believe that wages should be increased for all in line with national level trade union demands in recent times. The idea that some academics went on a token strike asking for a mere increase of the academic allowance was conveyed by the Honourable Minister of Higher Education Mr. S.B Dissanayake through the Thulawa Programme of Independent Television Network (ITN). This was on July 29 when he was interviewed on current university problems. We wish to tell the Minister that we went on token strike in order to ensure that what he stated in parliament concerning revised salaries is implemented with a clear date.
It is clear that the people are demanding for decent wages at a time the politicians who are ‘mandated servants of the people’ have made themselves very comfortable at the expense of the ordinary masses who pay taxes even for their basic human needs. We are yet to see any politician tightening ones belt to be an example to others when the economy is bankrupt. The story that we have a bankrupt economy comes to light only when people demand for decent wages.
The Need for Revised Salaries for Academics as a Distinct Professional Category
It is heartening to note that the present government has recognised academics as a separate professional category. Subscribing to structural and attitudinal attributes of professionalism, most of them are also recipients of locally and internationally competitive scholarships. No one would dispute that they need to be remunerated at least on par with regional level academics in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where they are paid more than double or treble of what academics with the same qualifications receive in Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka an academic at the stage of recruitment gets approximately Rs. 25, 000 per month while the senior most professor gets only about Rs. 55, 000 with an academic allowance of 25% paid additionally. This allowance which used to be 30% was reduced by 5%, as if the academics do not deserve the salary that they get!
The grievances of national university academics are rooted in a number of factors that are connected with their dignity as a professional community. Sri Lankan academics like their counterparts around the world believe and are sensitive to the fact that the government should honour its own words since credibility is a factor connected with good governance in a democracy. In an autocracy we need not believe in such credibility since things would happen according to the whims and fancies of individuals.
The academics in Sri Lanka only want a decent wage that is harmonious with their status since they with their Ph.Ds serve in Sri Lanka by choice, having returned to the motherland after studying in best known universities in the world. But it seems to be that the politicians and the bureaucrats are slow to understand this reality, willfully contributing towards a brain drain.
A major factor that burdens us is that the current trade union action is rooted in a promise given by His Excellency the President in 2008 January, that academic salaries will be revised within three months. This promise has not been fulfilled leading to an erosion of confidence in the government most unnecessarily. It is certainly in the interest of H. E. the President to find out as to who prevented, if at all, in carrying out his own assurance to the academics.
Then in the year 2009 December, when the academics deliberated again, Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, gave an assurance to the Federation of University Teachers Association that we will be given an increase of 25%- 50% in the academic allowance, as a temporary measure until revised salaries are granted. Ironically, this too remains unfulfilled. The action to ignore the promise also burdens us.
Then when the new government took office, the Minister of Higher Education Hon. S.B Dissanayake told the academics that their demands will be met through the budget of 2010, and that we should not ask for the temporary academic allowance since such acceptance would jeopardize our demand for revised salaries. Now, we have a right to know as to who prevented the Honourable Minister from implementing his proposal? All such questions should be raised in a democracy.
In recent times, in the month of July, the Minister S.B. Dissanayake answering a question raised by the JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that the lowest academic salary will be Rs. 72000 while a senior professor will be granted Rs. 200000. When is this going to be validated?
Our current position: Why Do we Still Believe in Professional Union Actions.
The national university academics successfully carried out a token strike asking the government to provide a written undertaking on when the revised salaries will be operational. We are putting pressure since we have become uneasy and skeptical about what politicians say since they have lost credibility due to unfulfilled promises.
Our young academics at the Open University of Sri Lanka request the Federation of University Teachers never to give up professional action since the officials have not been true to themselves.
There are those who say that public officials should be made accountable for their lapses. But, the problem is to whom they are accountable in the absence of an independent Public Service Commission appointed by the Constitutional Council in line with the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. After all we did not even have an Elections Commissioner accountable to an Independent Elections Commission.
It is my position that H. E. the President should establish these checks and balances needed for functional democracy, so that the people will be served by responsible civil servants harmonious with the historic mandate that President Mahinda Rajapaksa received from the people.
Mr. President, we academics wish to strengthen the government and not weaken you. The President, I am sure will be careful of those advisers who wish to create a rift between him and us, who represent the intelligentsia of Sri Lanka
The need is for a University Grants Commission sensitive to the needs of academics.
To what extent have the relevant authorities played a catalytic role in establishing professionally responsible relationships between the academia and the government? Are officials at UGC level of the view that all academics should be political activists canvassing support for the ruling party during election times? Do they think that academics who believe in independent professional action in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be punished with their wages cut off? I am sure that H. E. the President who is a courageous leader will advise them to be more enlightened.
The letter sent by the UGC Chairman in response to the token strike by over 4000 academics provide evidence of such insensitivity, disgracing the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. Such communications are an insult to the President of Sri Lanka who believed in a Labour Charter, Minister S.B. Dissanayake, who was a University Student Council President during his youth and U. G. C. Chairman, Professor Gamini Samaranaike who was imprisoned for his involvement in the 1971 Insurrection!
Is it a crime to remind the government through a token strike that it should honour its own progressive promises to the people?
Higher Education In Chaos
Commission Circular No: 890
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New » Commission Circular No: 924
Commission Circular No: 890
07th June, 2007,
Vice-Chancellors of Universities, Rectors of Campuses
Directors of Institutes.
TRADE UNION ACTION
The Commission considered the effect on the smooth functioning of the University System and the impact on the economy of the country due to loss of man hours as a result of trade union action such as token strikes, walk outs, continuous strikes, sick note campaigns, etc, launched by the employees in the University System which lead to cessation of work.
The Commission therefore decided that the days on which all the employees in the University System who do not report for duty due to trade union action as explained above, be treated as on no pay absence. Accordingly, a1 Higher Educational Institutions/institutes are advised to deduct the amount equivalent to the salary to be paid for the number of days/hours that they had withheld their labour (including non working days falling within the period of trade union action) from their salary due for the month concerned. The deduction of the salary should take effect within the same month.
Please bring the contents of this Circular to the notice of all the employees attached to your Institution/Institute. The provisions of this Circular are effective from 7th June 2007.
(Prof. Gamini Samaranayake)
Chairman’s Office / UGC
Vice- Chairman / UGC
Members of the UGC
Deans of Faculties
Registrars of universities
Financial controller UGC
Bursars of Universities
Librarians/ SAL/ AL of the higher educational institutions / Institutes
Deputy Registrars / Senior asst. Registers / Asst. Registrar of campuses / Institutes
Deputy Bursars / Senior Asst. Bursars / Asst. Bursars of Campuses / Institutes
Chief internal auditor / UGC
Govt. Audit superintendence of universities
Senior Asst. internal auditors / Asst. internal auditors of HEIs
Secretaries of Grade Unions
An old boy of S. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, Dr. Mahim Mendis is currently the President of the Open University Teachers Association. He has an MA from the University of Lancaster, UK, an M.Phil from the University of Leicester, UK and a Ph.D from the National University of Singapore.