Lecturers' trade union action not driven by political forces
Ven. Dr. Agalakada Sirisumana
Dr. Damma Dissanayake
Dr. Nirmal Devasiri
Dr. Sunil Jayantha Navaratne
University academics yesterday insisted that their trade union action
was not intended to embarrass or inconvenience the Government but
instead was to get off the ground an immediate restructuring of the
salaries in the university sector, rectifying the long-standing
Senior university lecturers said they were appealing to the
government to look into their demands, based on genuine grievances, with
an open mind as they did not wish to get into a collision course and
disrupt the functions of the universities.
President of the Federation of University Teachers' Associations Dr.
Nirmal Devasiri, Faculty of Arts, Colombo University said they were not
demanding a 200 per cent salary increase as reported in the media. "It
was a mistake on my part. It was a wrong interpretation but actually our
demands are much less than that. And we are ready to discuss them with
He said their trade union action was not politically driven adding
that it was unfortunate to brand their effort as an anti-Government
"The Majority of the FUTA membership wholeheartedly backed the UPFA
government from the beginning and backed the President during the past
two elections which elected him to office."
"We are helpless if the political parties such as JVP and the UNP try
to gain political mileage out of genuine grievances of the university
lecturers. We cannot ask them not to issue statements", he said.
"This is a genuine issue and I hope the officials will understand".
He pointed out that the Higher Education Minister in a historic
statement made to Parliament in July promised a salary point of Rs.
200,000 for a senior professor as a solution to the country's 'brain
drain'. This had been an initial proposal by the FUTA. However after
subsequent negotiations a compromise was made to cut down on their
At these negotiation rounds the lecturers were promised to pay 25%
interim allowance from December 2009 until their salary anomalies were
rectified. But it has been a dead promise up to date.
He said they were hoping to take this up with the President and clear
any misunderstandings one on one.
The FUTA demands are: A salary increase up to basic salary point for
a professor Rs. 135,000 plus an academic allowance of 25 per cent,
Senior Professor Rs. 167,000 plus the academic allowance and senior
lecturer grade II for which majority of lecturers in the university
sector belong to, an increase up to Rs. 88,000 from the current Rs.
The current basic salary for a senior professor is Rs. 57,000.
He said the State university sector has the lowest academic salaries
when considered internationally, regionally and even locally.
India offers a salary equivalent to about Rs. 100,000 (LKR) for a
Lecturer with a Ph.D and about Rs. 200,000(LKR) for a Senior Professor
with effect from 2006. In addition they are also given a housing
allowance (up to 30% basic salary), a transport allowance and an
allowance for the education of their children.
Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are
among the countries that offer attractive salaries for university
academics. China and India recently joined in increasing the salaries to
acceptable levels. The university sector salaries were placed on a
somewhat higher scale than that of the Central Bank in the early days.
In 1970s the young varsity leavers of upper strata had two options,
either to continue as a junior lecturer or join the central bank. The
university was always a better option remuneration-wise.
But with the passage of time it has become lopsided and the widening
gap has become a humiliation to the university academics.
The difference of the two salary structures are as follows,
Asst. Lecturer starting salary point was Rs. 700
Central Bank starting point was Rs. 600
Starting salary for probation lecturer Rs.26,900
At Central Bank a management trainee with similar qualifications is
offered Rs. 45,000
He said their demands were very reasonable considering the fact that
a Member of Parliament receives a basic of Rs.54,000 by today whereas
they drew lower salaries than that of university academics in the 70s.
"Our demand is more about restoring dignity in the profession."
The academics do not enjoy the general perks such as housing loans,
medical schemes and a privilege of quota to enter their children to
popular schools which are offered to public servants. They have to
languish for 12 years to be eligible to apply for vehicle permits where
as a public sector executive is allowed to obtain a permit after six
Senior Lecturer Ven. Agalakada Sirisumana Thera said, "We have never
resorted to a trade union action demanding exclusive pay hikes during
the time of the conflict. It was our general consensus that we must not
be unreasonable. We agreed the Government should be given space to
attend to the most crucial issue at hand - 'elimination of terrorism'".
But we feel that it is time that the Government paid attention to our
"We received a five per cent pay hike under the 2011 budget
proposals. This was given to all the public servants. Our issue is
unique and it needs to be treated likewise."
Lecturers opine that a research grant is not the immediate problem of
the university academics. We already have various funds within the
universities to obtain financial assistance for research purposes.
Besides the proposed criteria to apply and obtain the particular
research grant from the UGC is unrealistic. Furthermore it will be for a
limited period like two years. This proposal will not settle the
anomalies that have existed for years.
Director General Jana Sabha Secretariat of the Economic Development
Ministry Damma Dissanayake who serves as a senior lecturer at Colombo
University said the majority of the university academics who helped
bring this Government to office too were affected by the salary issue.
The trade union action was launched with the blessings of these
lecturers as well as it represents the genuine grievances of the
academia. It does not represent anyone's political agenda.
"I believe they are rational and reasonable demands and that
Government should resolve this matter through negotiations."
State Mortgage Bank Chairman Jagath Wellawatte, a lecturer himself,
said there is no argument that the university teachers' salaries need to
be revised and there were long-standing discrepancies. This issue has to
be settled through negotiations and rational argument.
"Any process towards settling the issue between academics and
education authorities should not compromise each other's dignity. The
university teachers issues cannot be resolved via heated arguments and
they cannot be treated as labourers," Wellawatte said. He said in the
meantime FUTA should also try to be flexible in winning their demands
and be smart not to fall prey or become some political cat's paw. He
said over 55 per cent of the FUTA membership represents progressive
elements which are strongly behind the UPFA government. Only 3% back the
JVP and 10% are behind the UNP. There are another 15% who have no
Higher Education Ministry Secretary Sunil J. Navaratne said the
lecturers were having an easy life in universities engaged in one way
teaching whereas they should dedicate some of their time on research to
help improve his teaching aptitude. The research allowance was intended
to motivate the lecturers to take up to research and improve and update
their knowledge. It is not a condition which is unreasonable.
He said the lecturers demands were totally unrealistic especially
since the Government has already agreed for a 36 per cent pay hike
effected as follows:
Salary increase of 5%, paid to all public servants, 6.25% of their
salary paid exclusively to university academics plus the 25% research
He said the academics were demanding a 40% pay hike and the
Government has offered a 36.25% increase which in his opinion was a good