Teachers hold children to ransom - Prof. G.L. Peiris | Sunday Observer
Govt takes steps to resolve Principals’ and teachers’ issues

Teachers hold children to ransom - Prof. G.L. Peiris

8 August, 2021
Teachers are engaged in protest campaigns
Teachers are engaged in protest campaigns

Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris said teachers were holding children to ransom, acting stubbornly to win over a set of unrealistic demands, during a deadly global pandemic which has brought all countries to their knees.

Responding to seven questions posed by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa in Parliament last week, Prof. Peiris expressed gratitude to the Opposition Leader for creating him an opportunity to present a clear picture to the House with regard to the teachers’ and principals’ salary issue and the strike.

In response to the query if the Government admitted that Principals and teachers have salary anomalies, Prof.Peiris said the Government not only admitted that there were anomalies but it was working on addressing the issues in a systematic manner. “The Government accepts that something has to be done to resolve them. They deserve a higher salary. We are clear about it,” he told Parliament.

Sustainable solution

To his next question, ‘Why the Government is not doing anything to settle these issues?, Prof.Peiris said the Government was trying to find a sustainable solution to rectify the anomalies. “We have to do it the proper way. Teachers’ salaries need to be increased, but we must look at the whole picture,” he said, adding that the Ministry will create anomalies in the parallel services by increasing only the teachers’ salaries due to the pressure created by the trade unions. The current anomalies in the Teachers’ and principals’ service was created 24 years ago during a similar attempt to increase their salaries.

“We must look at the entire state sector and prepare a system to do justice to all these services. That is a priority of the Government. You have been a senior minister earlier,” Prof.Peiris referring to the Opposition Leader said, adding ‘when trying to resolve a matter of this nature, the proper system would be through the annual Budget’.

“Already we have embarked upon that process to include proposals in our next budget which will be presented in November, to increase their salary. That is the plan. A sustainable and a just solution which is fair by all sectors will be adopted,” he said. Referring to the pandemic woes, the Minister said Private sector has slashed the salaries of their employees by up to 40 percent. This can be verified with independent sources he told the Opposition Leader. “Due to the setbacks suffered as a result of the global pandemic, with reluctance, I’m sure, the private sector has reduced the salaries of their employees,” but he said the Government did not cut even a cent from the salaries of the teachers. “For months lessons were not conducted in schools, but we paid their salaries 100 percent. It was not an easy task to find funds to pay their salaries at a time when all revenue sources of the Government were sealed,” he said.

Describing the financial situation of the Government, he said, “One of the main income generators for the Government is the Value Added Tax (VAT). It has collapsed.

The Customs Duties are another source. Compare the income of the Customs two years ago with what they earn today, there is a vast difference. Another main income source is the excise duty. None of these are bringing revenue to the Government.”“The remittances by foreign employees have stopped. Even if we want to increase the salary of teachers, we must find the funds. From where can we do that?

The Budget is just three months away.” Minister Peiris said, teacher trade unions say they cannot wait for three months, they don’t care about the situation in the country, but they want to get the salary increments by hook or by crook. He questioned how the Opposition Leader could justify this stance when the teachers were only punishing the innocent children.

“I was involved in preparing the Budget proposals for the then President (Chandrika Kumaratunga) for seven years. We cannot isolate a single ministry and prepare budget proposals. That is not how it’s done. We need to take into account the big picture, speak to the Salaries Commission and the Treasury.”

Arbitrary decision

The Minister said the Education Ministry will commence discussions on budgetary allocations for Education with new Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa shortly. Thus a due process to find a solution to their agitations, is on the way.“I cannot take an arbitrary decision as the Education Minister on salary issues, since such an attitude will not result in a pragmatic solution. The recommendations on the Subhodini Committee report on teachers’ and principals’ salaries, which the trade unions are demanding to be implemented, cannot be implemented as it will create many more anomalies in the other parallel services.

This has been conveyed to us by the Salaries Commission. Subhodidni Committee was appointed by the Education Ministry. But when it was presented for implementation, the Salaries Commission pointed out the practical difficulties and complex issues it would bring about.

And for the inquiry if the Education Ministry will take action to make the Principals’ and Teachers’ service a closed service, he said taking a policy decision on this proposal is not hard. “A three Judge Bench at the Supreme Court in 2008, recommended this proposal. The Bench comprised former Chief Justices Sarath N Silva, K.Sripavan and Shirani Thilakawardena. We accept this concept on principle. There is no issue about that.”

Responding to the question, how fair it is to recall academic and nonacademic staff to schools, without vaccinations being completed and setting up protective measures against Covid-19 in schools, he said, “the Ministry has dispatched over Rs. 682 million to schools through provincial education directors to acquire Covid-19 protection kits.”Reading out statistics, the Minister said by last week, 87 percent of the teachers have received their Covid-19 vaccine. In the Colombo district 98 percent of the teachers have been vaccinated. “The teachers will not take any risk by coming to school adhering to social distancing norms,” he said, rejecting Opposition Leader’s criticism as baseless.


Teachers’ TUs to continue strike

The teachers’ trade unions have, however, decided to continue the strike until the Government expresses a firm stance on how their grievances will be resolved.

“Our request is to implement the recommendations contained in the report of the Subodhini Committee which was appointed to resolve the teacher-principal salary anomaly issue,” Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) General Secretary Joseph Stalin told the media after an unsuccessful meeting, the trade union leaders had with the Education Minister mid last week.

He said they will not accept the submission of a Cabinet paper by the Education Minister and the subsequent proposal within the Cabinet to resolve the matter through the 2022 budget. Ceylon Teachers’ Service Union (CTSU) General Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe, said that they will also join forces with the CTU to make this campaign a success. He said there was no other option to win their long standing demands. Hence, the trade union action including the withdrawal from online classes, face-to-face teaching activities at regional learning centres and national examination duties, which continued for over three weeks, will continue further. The teachers launched a strike over salary issues and the proposed Kotelawala National Defence University Bill on July 12. The Government suspended the debate on the Bill scheduled late last week. However, the school teachers decided to continue their strike demanding solutions for salary anomalies that have existed for 24 years. The Government is blaming the JVP and the opposition SJB for exploiting the teachers’ grievances to further their dirty politics. The trade unions have also requested Education Ministry Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera to withdraw the circular dated August 1, instructing all academic and non-academic school staff to report for duty. Joseph Stalin said the circular was an attempt to sabotage the ongoing trade union action. “We demand the immediate withdrawal of the circular. Teachers are called for duty about a week before the schools reopen, but so far, no decision has been made on the reopening of the schools,” he said. The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) has also expressed its solidarity with the teachers’ strike.

Due to the trade union action, practical tests for the 2020 GCE Ordinary Level students have been further postponed. Nearly 1 million students in state schools are affected by the strike.


At the time this paper went to press, it was learnt that considering the Covid-19 situation in the country, the Teacher-Principal trade unions decided to call off their protest march, proceeding from Kandy to Colombo at Pasyala yesterday morning.