Legal action should be taken immediately against the Navy commander who assaulted the employees of Hambanthota Harbour who were engaged in a trade union action demanding they should be made permanent employees of Port Authority and against the move of the government to privatize Hambanthota Harbour and assaulting and using foul language against journalists who were there to cover the event states the JVP.
This was stated at a press conference held by the Member of the Political Bureau of the JVP and its Parliamentarian Sunil Handunneththi and the Member of the Central Committee and Member of North – Central Provincial Council Wasantha Samarasinghe at the JVP head office at Pelawatta yesterday (11th).
Mr. Handunneththi said, “The government deployed Navy personnel to attack employees of Hambanthota Magampura Harbour who were engaged in a just trade union action. The journalists who were at the scene to cover the event too were assaulted ignominiously despite displaying their identity cards. As the JVP, we condemn with disgust this attack on employees and journalists and demand the government to take legal action against the officials and personnel who were involved in the perverse act.
The grievance of the employees was to make their employment permanent; to absorb them to the service of the Port Authority. Employees of all other ports are attached to the Port Authority. However, employees of Hambanthota Harbour have been kept away from this service. These employees have been deceived from the day they have been recruited. It is the previous government that deceived them initially. These employees have been recruited to a private company. As such, they are not considered as employees of the Harbour. In such circumstances we have our doubts whether the plan to sell the harbour existed from the time it was constructed. Even the Harbour Master is not an employee of the harbour. The previous government has deceived 483 employees this way.
We have to consider why these employees had to engage in trade union action. The agitation started with the decision of the economic committee of the government to sell the harbour to a Chinese company. The employees had the doubt about the permanency of their employment. As they were not employees of the harbour they had the doubt whether the company or the country that buys the harbour would consider them as employees of the harbour. It is indeed a very humanist issue.
They engaged in a trade union action so that the Porta Authority would be aware of it. When employees of the SLTB, railways and also university students agitate they do so in a manner to make their institutions aware of their action. The employees of this harbour too carried out such an agitation. However, the government responded with a disgraceful attack.
We say with responsibility that Sri Lanka Ports Authority has prepared a MoU to sign with a Chinese company. According to this MoU first the handing over would be for 100 years and then it would be extended for another 100 years. There is nothing mentioned about what happens to employees of the Harbour. Isn’t it justifiable when these employees take to the streets?
The cabinet paper the Deputy Minister of Ports Nishantha Muthuhettigama presented as the acting Minister, also with the approval of Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, includes many facts about the MoU. It is to be signed depriving the country of all operations, regulations, land ownership and many more of the harbour. According to MoU the Chinese company gets the most of the shares of the Harbour. Sri Lanka Ports authority gets only the rent for the lighthouse. The Port authority will have to be called the ‘Lighthouse Authority’ after signing the agreement. Also, the MoU would be a threat to national security. Also, it is mentioned that there could be industrial agitations. The MoU has not received the approval of the subject minister. According to the MoU the company gets the ownership of lands, containers, gas, livestock, oil tanks, dockyard, ware houses and everything. However, there is nothing mentioned regarding employees. That’s why employees question as to why they have not been mentioned in the MoU. Their grievance is justifiable. These employees do not have any other employment. Do they have to go home after the MoU is signed? The government deployed Navy personnel to attack these employees who put forward their just demands.
Who is the officer who was involved in the deplorable attack? We saw a person with a pair of shorts and a blue t-shirt attacking journalists. He is none other than the Navy Commander Ravindra Wijegunarathna. He is the person who was involved in Rajapaksa son’s recruitment to the Navy, training and promotions. His issue is about his position. Just as he displayed his partiality to Rajapaksas then, now he wants to show his partiality to ‘yahapalana’ regime. What is the right he has to assault journalists even when they show their press identity card? What was the obstruction journalists committed there? The Navy was deployed to eliminate, to attack the employees on strike and to chase them away with force. As journalists showed this act to the country they were attacked. Did they expect to get the ships released by attacking journalists? No, the government showed that it is prepared to attack all those who oppose their selling spree which is their economic plan. The government is preparing to carry out its economic plan by hook or by crook. The attack was not only on the employees and journalists but to warn all those who oppose government’s move to sell resources of the country. They plan to sell harbours, lands, Pulmoddai mineral sands, Phosphate deposit and other resources. This is the first signal that those who oppose moves to such selling would be dealt with. As such, we tell the people in this country to rise up against Ranil – Maithri ‘yahapalana’ administration. We demand the government not to take revenge from the employees but to grant their rights.”
Mr. Wasantha Samarasinghe said, “The government has fallen to the level of passing the ball to others. The employees have been engaging in the trade union action for five days. They agitated at their place of work. According to their appointment letters their probationary period ends on 16.11.2016 and they should be made permanent since then. They were attacked when they asked to be made permanent. Five employees have been hospitalized due to injuries received when they were attacked. We, as a trade union movement, would take the maximum action against this attack. What should be done now is to make the employees permanent.
They are occupying the site even after they were attacked. All affairs of the harbour have been hindered. The Navy has damaged equipment in the harbour. We would like to ask the government and the President whether this is what they mean by ‘good governance’. Previous government deployed the Army and the police to attack workers. The present government deploys the Navy to attack. This government was elected after driving away the previous regime not to carry out such acts. The President should explain this to the people. We demand that the workers in this Harbour should be made permanent. They cannot seek employment in other companies. We demand that they should be absorbed into the Ports authority. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime with a 2/3rd majority that suppressed workers using state power was defeated on the road. We demand the government to stop violence and mediate to solve issues of the working masses.”