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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

ULU’s dilemma - to lecture or not to

LakbimaNews, 31/07/2011,

Ministry of Higher Education reneges on agreement

By Sanjaya Nallaperuma

Though the University Lecturers Union (ULU) decided to call off their strike which had gone on for some months reports now emerge that there is a possibility that the lecturers will be forced to resort strike once again since the Ministry of Higher Education has not shown any interest in solving issues pertaining to their salary anomalies.

The strike by the university lecturers crippled the country’s higher education sector for a number of months. It is also reported that certain lecturers are not pleased with the ULU for having called off their strike. 

Among the conditions put forward by the ULU at the time they called off the strike was the reinstating of lecturers who had voluntarily resigned from their posts. However, university vice chancellors have said that such lecturers could only be reinstated if they withdraw their letters of resignation. This turn of events has prompted the ULU to seriously consider re-launching their strike and that is bound to cripple the university sector once more. 
“When we called off the strike, we specifically imposed the condition that lecturers who had voluntarily resigned from their posts should be re-instated. We only asked for the section heads to be given fresh appointments. But the vice chancellors insist that until lecturers withdraw their resignations those new posts cannot be given. We obtained legal advice in this regard, and were told that these resignations cannot be withdrawn. If they were to withdraw their letters of resignation as requested by the vice chancellors it will be detrimental to us as a trade union. This is why we are reluctant to withdraw letters of resignation,” said the ULU president, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri. 

He said that a similar incident had taken place in 1996, and added that vice chancellors of universities have no right to contravene rules and regulations to seek petty gains.

However, the Ministry of Higher Education states that such resignations cannot be deemed as valid as they had not exceeded three months. 

Secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education, Dr. Sunil Jayantha Navarathna said that the ULU should withdraw such resignations. But ULU chief Dr. Nirmal Devasiri alleged that it had been the government that had issued a circular to the effect that such resignations should be forwarded three months prior to     effective date -- and charged that the government is now changing its stance on its whims and fancies.

Higher education in jeopardy

Meanwhile it has now come to light that as a consequence of these issues and the manner in which they are being highlighted, the education system within the university structure is in jeopardy. Dr. Nirmal Devasiri warned that trying to overlook the issues and not addressing the concerns of the lecturers would impact negatively on students seeking higher education. 
Dr. Devasiri charged that several universities in Sri Lanka are currently in a dilemma as lecturers are still reluctant to commence lectures, as there is no assurance that their grievances have been fully addressed. He said that the current situation has directly led to education in universities plunging to abysmal depths. 

The ULU president also said that some members of their union have begun to question them on their decision to call off the strike. He said that being critical of decisions that they take on behalf of the union would not be a healthy move as it would go against any future steps they may take on behalf of the ULU. He was however quick to add that they will continue to fight for their just demands if the need arises. 

He also charged that some are being driven by political interests and are tying to divide the ULU. As they were not successful in their effort to hamper the trade union action they are now trying to divide the ULU, he added.