November 10, 2009 / 2:24 PM / 10 years ago

Sri Lanka state-sector unions to work to rule

COLOMBO, Nov 10 (Reuters) - A united Sri Lankan opposition on Tuesday put its weight behind state sector trade unions which are going on a five-day work-to-rule in their push for higher pay.

State power, water, oil and port workers will not work outside assigned duties and set working hours from Wednesday after negotiations broke down as the government tries to slash spending to meet the terms of an IMF loan deal.

“We are going ahead with the planned union action as the we haven’t got a favourable response,” said Ranjan Jayalal, convenor of a united trade union front at the state-owned power firm.

Since coming to power in 2005, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has largely avoided conflict with the powerful labour and student unions, having asked them in 2006 to postpone wage demands until the military had defeated Tamil Tiger separatists. But since the 25-year war ended in May, unions have begun to make their voices heard and demand pay hikes to counter a higher cost of living. The government says the work-to-rule is politically motivated. Rajapaksa faces presidential and parliamentary polls by April amid pressure to cut expenditure.

The government is supposed to reduce the budget deficit to 7 percent this year from around 9 percent, under the terms of a $2.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan. [ID:nSP539379]

Trade unions of the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and pro-capitalist United National Party have joined hands in the latest protest, amid speculation over the both opposition parties forming a coalition in the next presidential poll.

The government on Tuesday agreed to raise the wages of state oil firm employees by 22 percent from January next year, which the oil union rejected, saying their claim was from January 2009.

“We will come up with our plan when they start their protest,” Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, the government’s cabinet spokesman, told Reuters. “This is a politically motivated action.”

Queues formed at petrol stations in the commercial heart of Colombo after a four-day work-to-rule campaign last month saw the pumps go dry. (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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