Sunday, July 8, 2012

Are FUTA’s demands regarding national policy on higher education within the Mandate of a Trade Union?

06/07/2012, By,Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya

Three university academics, who are currently under State patronage,
Jagath Wellawatta (Chairperson, State Mortgage Investment Bank
formerly, National Child Protection Authority, Sri Lanka Foreign
Employment Bureau), Rohan Rajapakse (Advisor to the Minister of Higher
Education; formerly Executive Director, Sri Lanka Council of
Agriculture Research), and Ranjith Bandara (Chairperson, Sri Lanka
Foundation Institute and Senior Economic Adviser, formerly, Director
of the Financial Service Cluster, Strategic Enterprise Management
Agency) discussed the trade union action on the evening of the 1st of
June, 2012. It is disappointing to note that FUTA was excluded from
this discussion.

The panel agreed that FUTA was acting beyond its mandate as a trade
union by demanding change in government policy on education and higher
education. This perspective however is false because these policies
affect how universities are run, and therefore directly affect the
university teachers’ capacity to serve their mandate to society,
through the provision of quality education. Therefore to say that the
issues addressed are only tangentially related to our jobs is a
misrepresentation of our role. It is also false because it is unusual
for unions to have broader demands than those related to pay. In Sri
Lanka itself several teachers unions, the GMOA, and other trade unions
have addressed policy level issues to safeguard their professions.
Internationally also teachers’ unions are addressing such issues. To
illustrate, currently in the United Kingdom, the University and
College Union has two principle campaigns that fight against funding
cuts and the privatization of tertiary education. In Australia, the
National Tertiary Education Industry Union campaigns to increase
funding for Australian higher education, and in India, the All India
Federation of University and College Teachers in their June 2012
newsletter lists their struggles against commercialization of higher
education (although this seems minor in contrast to their main
campaign for increased pay). Finally in the United States, the
American Federation of Teachers includes in their objectives the goal
of campaigning to ensure that students receive what they need to
succeed and to ensure that teachers receive what they need to
facilitate learning. As the university system in the United States is
not under an umbrella organization, a parallel organization to FUTA is
not available. In each of these cases, unions are addressing policy
that directly affects their ability to perform their job today and in
the future. Addressing policy and the needs of future generations of
students is fully within the mandate of FUTA as these policies hinder
our ability to do our jobs.

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