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Thursday, May 12, 2011

FUTA Struggle for Dignified Salaries for Academics: Progress since January 31st 2008 Meeting with the President

by Dr. Mahim Mendis
BA(Hons); MA(Lancaster)UK; M.Phil(Leicester)UK; Ph.D(NUS)
Dean- Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Open University of Sri Lanka &
Media Spokesman- FUTA
  1. At a special meeting held at Temple Trees on 31st January 2008 President Mahinda Rajapakse,
    assured the FUTA that Academic salaries will be restructured within three months, probably appreciating the justification for such increase.
  2. On 8th September 2008, a proposal prepared in consultation with FUTA and government officials was submitted by the Ministry of Higher education to the Salaries and Cadre Commission.
  3. Having waited since January 2008, the FUTA addressed a letter to the President of Sri Lanka on 12th November 2009 as a firm reminder on this proposal.
  4. On 9th December 2009, the FUTA was re-assured by the Adviser to the President, Mr. Basil Rajapakse at a meeting attended by Dr. P. B. Jayasundara, Mr. Lalith Weeratunge, Secretary to the President, Prof. Gamini Samaranayake, Chairman/UGC, and M. Junaid of the Salary Commission, that academics will be granted an interim solution by increasing the academic allowance from 25% to 50% with effect from 1st December 2009. The 25% Academic Allowance which used to be 30% was arbitrarily reduced by 25% , a few years ago. Ironically, we academics did not protest.
  5. With no progress made by the UGC in issuing the relevant Circular on Mr. Basil Rajapakses promise, the FUTA met again on 19th February 2010 to decide on follow up action. The members decided to inform His Excellency on 22nd February 2010 that they would be compelled to take trade union action from 12th March 2010 if the Circular for the increase was not released
  6. The FUTA held a Press Conference on 12th March 2010 to inform the public about unfulfilled promises
  7. When the new Minister of Higher Education SB Dissanayake assumed office, the FUTA met him at the Ministry and he promised to solve the salary problem through the 2010 Budget. The discussion at the Ministry was based on the Salary Proposal approved by the Ministry in 2008.
  8. The FUTA met Minister Dissanayake on 2nd of August 2010 at 5pm at the Ministry of Higher Education. At this meeting a request was made by the Minister to submit a proposal with salary statements of University academics in the South Asian region and the current salary structures applicable to similar categories in the Sri Lankan public sector, statutory bodies and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. FUTA immediately responded and submitted the proposals the following day, 3rd August 2010 (Please see the Attachment).

    The proposal was sent to the Treasury by the Secretary, Higher Education Ministry, on 5th August 2010 (Please see below the Proposal)

  9. During the budget, Member of Parliament Anura Kumara Dissanayake questioned Minister SB Dissanayke about academic salaries and SB Dissanayek said that salaries will be revised with the entry level lecturers given 70000 and the Senior Professors Rs. 200000 (2 Lakhs).
  10. Further reassuring us, The Presidential Secretary, Mr. Lalith Weeratunga stated the following on 5th of September 2010 in an Email:

    “This is to inform you that the government will positively look at the proposals submitted by your association in regards to the improvement of the emoluments that university academic staff presently enjoys. As you are aware, revision of salaries and other emoluments of the public sector need to be handled carefully as to ensure coherence, relevance and sustainability.”

    I am pleased to inform you that in keeping with the above principle, Dr. P.B.Jayasundara, Secretary to the Treasury would be meeting with you very soon to discuss this matter in depth. He, as you know, has taken the initiatives to ensure that vital sectors of a fast growing economy like ours are kept vibrant and well nurtured. I suggest that you contact Dr. Jayasundara in the next few days to secure an appointment to agree on a course of action that would address the grievances of the University academic community.”
  11. On the strength of this assurance on behalf of H.E the President, the FUTA delegation led by Professor Sampath Amaratunge met with Dr. P.B Jayasundara on 6th September 2010 at 8.00am at the Treasury in a positive and cordial environment. After a lengthy discussion the following positions were established:

    (a) Acceptance of the proposals submitted by the FUTA through the Ministry of Higher Education

    (b) To recognize academics as a distinct professional category since universities are the ‘Nerve Centres’ that produce the expertise for national development.

    On the strength of these assurances, the FUTA once again respected the government, thus withdrawing two key trade union initiatives, namely
    (a) National Picketing on the 2nd of September 2010 and
    (b) Resignation of Heads on the 7th of September 2010. 
  12. What did the Budget 2011 finally offer as a solution? The Myth known as 36.25% to Hoodwink the People

    The government boasts that academics were granted 36.25% increase at the last budget. Of this, 5% happens to be the public sector increase, 25% of the already given 25%academic allowance which comes to 6.25% of the salary, giving Rs. 3600 for the Senior Most Professor. The 25% “Research and Development Allowance is not going to be a part of the regular monthly salary and no such conditional allowances can solve the current problem concerning the need for an attractive wage.
  13. Why Academics need a monthly salary that is internationally competitive

    Our fundamental argument has not been appreciated by the government that there should be monthly salaries that will help to ATTRACT, RECRUIT AND RETAIN the best academics available.

    We point out that Incentives should be granted only for those who perform maximally in teaching, research, academic administration and national development.
  14. What is the current status?

    (a) Furthermore , we have since January 2011 lost the privileges we had such as the ‘special quota’ to enter our children to government schools. It is hilarious that children of academics are discriminated this way, when academic are burdened socio-economically as well.

    (b) The Duty Free Car permit which was given every 5 years was made 12 years since January 2011.

    (c) From 1st April 2011 teachers who get an annual income of over 600,000 will have to pay income tax of 4%.

    (d) Academics do not enjoy most of the special privileges granted to government servants such as low interest loans. They do not have a Medical scheme to get medicines; not entitled for Housing Loans or transport allowances; and, most teachers cannot afford to purchase a computer, while they are fundamental needs of Academics who should have peace of mind.
  15. Current Trade Union Actions

    FUTA had a Special General Meeting on 8th April 2011 at 1.00 pm, at the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, attended by Representatives from almost all the Universities in Sri Lanka. They unanimously decided to take firm trade union action in the midst of continuing indifference shown by the government with regard to Academic Salary grievances, further aggravated by insults.
The Main Demand of the FUTA in reactivating Trade Union action is as follows:
  1. That the salaries of University Lecturers must be revised according to the proposal approved by the Ministry of Higher Education on 8th September in 2008 consultation with FUTA and handed over to the Salaries and Cadre Commission.
  2. That University academics be treated as a special category of professionals as suggested by the Treasury. 
The FUTA unanimously decided on the following actions at this stage to win the demands:
  1. Resignation from all voluntary positions within the university system such as Department Headships, Chief Student Counselor and Counselor positions, Director positions etc held by academic staff members from 9th May 2011.
  2. To refrain from all GCE Advanced Level Evaluation work, if the salary demands are not met by August 2011.