Parents join teachers’ protests as health officials fear COVID-19 resurgence

ECONOMYNEXT – Parents of school students joined protests organised by Sri Lanka’s school teacher unions against unresolved salary anomaliess, media reports showed on Wednesday (03).

Parents in several districts including Colombo and Kandy protested in front of their children’s schools demanding that the government provide a quick solution to the crisis and secure the education of their children.

“The government tried to make parents go against us,” Ceylon Teachers Union Secretary Joseph Stalin told reporters at a protest on Wednesday.

“But today we are fighting together. We tell the government that we need a solution to this before the budget proposal [in November].

“Teachers are teaching while parents are fighting on behalf of teachers. We saw the Prime Minister talk about this issue but no solution has been given. Basil Rajapaksa who is the Finance Minister works like he knows everything,” said Stalin.

School teachers and principals in Sri Lanka were on strike for over 100 days over the issue. Though they have now returned to work, the protests continue. The government proposed to increase their salaries in a four-year strategy, but upon the rejection of that proposal, the government later proposed to give the increments in two installments. The unions rejected this, too, and continued to protest demanding that their salaries be increased in one go.

Related: Sri Lanka’s North, East see highest attendance of students, teachers: minister

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP) Education services Union President Wasantha Handapangoda told reporters that the protest of teachers’ union has failed. The union is affiliated with the ruling party.

“No more than 10 to 15 parents have joined it. They hid their faces behind the poster when they saw me,” Hanadapangoda said.

“It is sad to say the unions have sent a message through students to ask parents come and protest saying this is a fight to secure the free education in Sri Lanka.”

Health officials commenting on the protests and strikes organised by several unions said mass gatherings can lead up to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the country again.

“We have seen an unexpected increase in some areas. No matter how much the organisers assure us that guidelines will be followed at these events, the spread of the virus cannot be controlled when people gather in large numbers,” Deputy Director General of Health Services Dr Hemantha Herath told reporters on Wednesday.

“We won’t see the results of these activities now, but in a few weeks’ time. By then we won’t be able to pinpoint to a certain gathering and say the outbreak was specifically due to this gathering,” he said.

Chairman of Public Health Inspectors (PHI) Union Upul Rohana in an interview given to the privately owned Derana network said the rights of unions can only be won if they’re alive.

“We need to be alive first to win our rights. After me, my family members, my parents die due to this pandemic, there is no point in winning these rights. That is the reality,” Rohana said.

“This is what we saw in December 2020 as well. We remember how we behaved during that period.

“We see an increase of patients from the ground level. That is why we say there is a possibility of a problematic situation by end December this year if we don’t take measures and follow health guidelines,” he said. (Colombo/Nov03/2021)

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