Friday, August 3, 2012

FUTA adopts new strategy to secure pay hike


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) yesterday separated its ongoing strike to win a pay hike from the overall push for an agreement with the government on the allocation of 6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for education.

FUTA Chief Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri asserted that even if an agreement could be reached on salary and related issues, their battle for enhanced allocation for the education sector would continue. The head of the Department of History of the Faculty of the Colombo University reiterated FUTA’s commitment in the wake of the government and the FUTA initiating a fresh dialogue to settle the ongoing strike.

Dr. Devsiri was addressing the media at the National Library Services Board yesterday morning having met presidential secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa the previous night. The government kept Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake and University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof. Gamini Samaranayake out of Wednesday’s meeting.

A large group of trade unions, including the main union affiliated to the JVP, too, joined the media briefing. Addressing the gathering on behalf of the JVP, Mahinda Jayasinghe alleged that the government was trying to further limit its role in the education sector. Comparing the State sector spending for education in the SAARC region, Jayasinghe said that GoSL’s contribution to the vital sector was now negligible. Unfortunately those who had immensely benefited from free education remained silent when the government was destroying everything. Both free education and free health services were on the verge of collapse due to rapid decrease in State support, he said, adding that the parents were finding it difficult to provide education.

The FUTA chief said that deliberations were held at the Economic Affairs Ministry in a cordial atmosphere, though an agreement couldn’t be reached. "We discuss various aspects, though it is too early to speculate on the outcome," he said.

The soft-spoken academician said that both parties felt that an early settlement was necessary. The FUTA asserted that successful conclusion of the ongoing deliberations would entirely depend on a serious intervention on the part of the government. "Next few days will be crucial," Dr. Devasiri said, while stressing on the importance of taking decisive action to settle the crisis.

The FUTA launched a strike on July 4 to win their demands, mainly allocation of 6 per cent of the GDP for education and a pay hike.

Asked by the local BBC correspondent whether the government was serious in the latest initiative or trying to wear out the FUTA, a smiling Dr. Devasiri said that he didn’t like to comment on the government strategy. Expressing confidence that the government wouldn’t adopt such a counterproductive strategy, the FUTA chief warned such a move would invariably fail.

Devasiri pointed out that the direct involvement of Messrs Weeratunga and Basil Rajapaksa meant that the government was keen to settle the crisis. But the possibility of the ultimate failure of the ongoing talks, too, couldn’t be ruled out. He regretted the failure on the part of Minister Dissanayake and Prof. Samaranayake to help resolve the crisis.

When The Island pointed out that Minister Dissanayake had alleged that the FUTA made a series of demands, including government allocation of funds to teach two children of each FUTA member and the association was, too, greedy, Devasiri that Prof. Navaratne Bandara made a suggestion to that effect sometime ago, though the FUTA wasn’t pushing for that particular demand at the moment. Prof. Devasiri revealed that JVP parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake got in touch with him soon after Minister Dissanayake first made the allegation in parliament. Devasiri insisted that Prof. Navaratne’s proposal was not on the agenda, while likening offer of scholarships to the children of FUTA members to various perks and privileges offered to the public sector.

However, Ven. Dambara Amila thero accused Minister Dissanayake of making an attempt to give a different interpretation to what he called scholarship issue. The Ven. thero said that that FUTA made that particular proposal after Minister Dissanayake offered scholarships to foreign students. "We felt our children should be given scholarships first before foreigners were accommodated," the Ven. thero said.

The Island also raised the issue of the government trebling the university intake without having the necessary infrastructure facilities and giving preferential treatment to FUTA and over two dozen of State sector enterprises, whereas the vast majority of government servants and private sector workers were struggling to make ends meet, the FUTA asserted that that wasn’t the forum to discuss such issues.

Asked whether education and health sector trade unions had at least bothered to inquire into complaints that those who shirk their duties do a much better job for a fee, the FUTA said that there were problems, which couldn’t be tackled by them alone.

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