Troubled Sri Lanka came to a near standstill on Thursday with over 1,000 government and private sector trade unions, representing almost all sectors from transportation to banking, striking work to demand that the government quit.
Issuing a 7-day ultimatum to the government, members of the Collective of trade unions, including foreign invested apparel sector, stayed away from work and took to streets demanding the government’s resignation. Transportation came to complete halt with no trains running and private bus owners keeping their vehicles off the road.
Trade union members, who started protest in front of their working places, then marched to President’s Office where a 20-day-long continuous protest is being held.
Trade unions, representing banks, railways, education, harbour, electricity, postal, apparel industry and tea estate workers joined the protests while doctors and medical sector too joined the trade union action while on duty.
“We have given the government till May 6 to resign and if the government does not listen to the people, we will have to have a hartal on May 6,” Ravi Kumudesh of the Collective of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations said.
“If the government is not willing to leave, we will have to kick them out. People are asking the Rajapaksas to go home and they don’t have a mandate anymore,” said Joseph Stalin, General Secretary, Ceylon Teachers’ Union. Trade unions have demanded that trade union action would be expanded if the government decides not to leave.
As the island nation faces its worst-ever economic crisis in the post-independence history, with major price hikes of essential items due to dollar crunch and inflation, people have taken to streets demanding the Rajapaksa government to step down.
Pressured by public protests, economic crisis and demand by religious leaders, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has agree to form an all-party government after cancelling the cabinet headed by his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa. On Wednesday, he invited all political parties to meet him on Friday to start discussion on an all-party government but he is yet receive positive response.
However, Mahinda Rajapaksa is insistent on continuing in power and has said that he would be the head of any new government to be formed.