Thursday, May 12, 2011

Trade Union Action of University Academics

The Island, 11/05/2006

The University academics have finally resorted to trade union action after years of discussions and negotiations, with the authorities, proved to be futile. The FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations) has on several previous occasions postponed such action due to the promises made by the relevant authorities to implement a reasonable salary scheme for the academics. Attempts are now being made to impress upon the general public that a pay rise of 31 % has been granted and that the trade union action is quite unreasonable. The purpose of this article is to appraise the public at large of the prevailing situation with regard to the salaries of university academics.

A position as a university academic in any country is bestowed with social respect and dignity. All the universities anywhere in the world take efforts to recruit and retain people with highest academic achievements by offering them attractive wages and other benefits. Countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, China and India with high economic growth rates have invested heavily in education, particularly in tertiary (university) education and Research & Development. However, the situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated so badly during the last few decades that we have been unable to recruit and retain best quality young academics. In fact we have the lowest academic salaries when considered internationally, regionally or even locally.

In 1970s, the first preference of a young graduate with 1st or 2nd class (Upper Division) was to join the university staff. The starting salary of an Assistant Lecturer then was Rs. 700/=. Another option available was to join the Central Bank for a salary of Rs.600/=. The salary of a Member of the Parliament then was about Rs.600/=.

The situation today is so lopsided that one may tend to think that the bureaucratic machinery has, over the years, through various salary revisions deliberately acted to undermine the academic community. Today, the starting salary of a university Lecturer at entry level is Rs. 26,900/=. According to an advertisement of the Central Bank (with closing date of 6th April 2007) a management trainee (with similar qualifications required for a Lecturer) is paid Rs. 45,000/= during two years of training and Staff Grade I salary of Rs. 63,000/= thereafter. For non-staff class grade II appointments, according to the same advertisement, one gets Rs. 25,000/= during training period and Rs. 37,000/= thereafter. The minimum educational qualification required for this latter post is only three C passes at G.C.E (A/L) examination. It should be made clear that a person in the Central Bank with just three A/L passes gets Rs. 37,000/= while a Lecturer in a University with a 1st class (or 2nd upper) special degree gets only a basic salary of Rs. 26,900/=!. The academic staff of Sri Lankan universities must be commended for performing their duties for so long under such humiliating conditions. Incidentally, an MP now gets a basic salary of Rs. 54,000/=. This information is summarized below (Table 1).

The salaries of Senior Lecturers and Professors are also alarmingly poor when compared with parallel grades in the Central Bank and private sector organizations.

In addition to this basic salary an academic member used to get 30% of the basic salary as an academic allowance, which was reduced to 25% a few years back. Thus a Senior professor gets a salary of around Rs. 72,200/=. We invite you to compare this salary with what is offered by the Central Bank for a special degree graduate with just 5 years experience and no post-graduate requirements . According to an advertisement of the Central Bank for the recruitment to the post of Engineer, such an employee gets a starting salary of Rs. 80,000/= (basic salary + bonus of 2 months salary per year). One can become a Senior Professor in a university only if he/she has post-graduate qualifications and extensive experience in teaching and research and by going through a stringent sequence of promotions. The situation is an insult to the academia to say the least.

The claim that the salaries of our university academics have been increased by 36.25 % recently is far from reality. It is true that we get the 5% general increase proposed in the 2011 budget and the additional 6.25%. The so called research allowance of 25 % of the salary is tagged with a highly unrealistic procedure that hardly anybody would get it.

The Global Scenario

An educated population is an asset to a country and the money spent on education is an investment. The global average of GDP spent on education is about 5.5 % with Cuba at top of the list spending 13.6 % of GDP on education in 2008. The amount of money spent on education by some of the countries in the South Asian region is as follows (World Bank data).

Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Malaysia (also Singapore and Brunei) are among the countries that offer high salaries for university academics. China and India have recently increased the salaries of academics to an acceptable level. Subsequent to the recommendations of the 6th Pay commission, India offers a salary equivalent to about Rs 100,000 (LKR) for a Lecturer with a Ph.D. and about Rs. 200,000(LKR) for a Senior Professor with effect from 2006. It is worth mentioning that, in addition to such salary, they are also given a housing allowance (up to 30 % basic salary), a transport allowance and an allowance for the education of their children.

It should be clear to any reasonably thinking person that the university academics have been reluctantly compelled to take this trade union action due to the repeated failure by the authorities to comprehend the gravity of the situation and grant a reasonable salary increase to the university academics. Finally, it is hoped that, at least at this late stage, the relevant authorities would have the impulse to be different and demonstrate some attributes of prudent professionalism in solving this national problem.

Members of the Peradeniya University Science Teachers Association