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Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Island Editorial: What a relief!

The Island 22/07/2011

University students eager to finish their studies, schoolchildren sitting the GCE (A/L) examination next month and their parents must have heaved a sigh of relief on hearing that university dons had suspended their trade union action at long last following a pledge by the government to meet some of their demands.

Why couldn't the government negotiate with the Federation of University Teachers' Associations (FUTA) and sort out the salary dispute at the very inception without provoking the protesting dons into ratcheting up their trade union action to the point of crippling universities? As President Mahinda Rajapaksa once famously said when he was Minister of Labour of the Kumaratunga government there are no winners in protracted trade union battles; both sides lose. As for trade union battles at seats of higher learning, the whole country suffers.

However, better late than never! It is hoped that the government and FUTA will stick to their agreement and let universities function smoothly. The government must desist from playing tricks on the university dons and carry out its promises.

Now, the onus is on FUTA to ensure that its members work harder and devote their time and energy to teaching and research in universities without moonlighting. There are some unscrupulous dons who apparently work full time for NGOs and private companies. They must be dealt with appropriately.

The government ought to consider allocation of more funds for education as FUTA has suggested. In a world where knowledge has become the dominant currency, Sri Lanka cannot afford to lag behind other countries if it is to face present and future challenges successfully and wean itself from its shameful dependence on the hapless women reduced to semi-slavery––housemaids in West Asia, garment workers in FTZs, tea pluckers and rubber tappers––to keep its economy ticking.

There is a huge backlog of work at universities. The GCE (A/L) examination is around the corner. The university teachers and the government must clear up the mess they have created. And fast!