Holding a large protest in front of the Colombo Fort Railway Station yesterday (22), which was named a ‘National Protest Day’, approximately 100 trade unions (TU) representing around 40 sectors vowed to make the Government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe roll back the tax policies that it recently introduced.
Several categories of professionals including the employees of institutions such as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), doctors, engineers, and university teachers had gathered in front of the Colombo Fort Railway Station yesterday afternoon. They were carrying placards and chanting slogans in protest of the tax revisions introduced by the Wickremesinghe-led Government.
The Colombo Fort Magistrate’s Court had issued an order preventing the protestors from obstructing motorists and pedestrians in the Colombo Fort Police Division, damaging public and private properties, and entering public institutions including the Presidential Secretariat and the Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies, and the Galle Face Green between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. yesterday. The order had been issued following a request made by the Colombo Fort Police, seeking to prevent the said protest.
Unlike during the protest launched by the same trade unions on 8 February, not many Police officers and Army personnel had been deployed around the Colombo Fort Railway Station and its surrounding areas yesterday.
Speaking during the protest, the trade union representatives which included doctors, university teachers and employees of the CEB and the CPC vowed to make the Government roll back the tax policies which they said were extremely unfair. They said that many more actions, in addition to the protest, would be taken in the coming days, so that the Government would definitely have to heed their demands.
“We have been telling the Government to implement a fair tax policy instead of these unfair taxes. We have been issuing warnings and today’s protest is a significant stage of our struggle. The professionals from all sectors give the same message. What we ask the Government is to listen to the professionals and turn back. If it does not do so, we are ready to continue with this struggle and again come to Colombo with hundreds of thousands of professionals and the general public. We saw the President saying that these tax reforms are a rescue operation. We would like to ask him, to rescue who is this rescue operation? These policies are introduced to save the politicians and not the people. We have only begun our struggle, and if the Government does not listen to us, we can disable the entire country. Do not drag us there,” said the Government Medical Officers’ Association’s (GMOA) Media Spokesman Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe.
Channa Dissanayake, who was speaking during the protest representing the Ceylon Bank Employees’ Union (CBEU), said: “The current Government has increased taxes and put the working class on the streets. We have been struggling and demanding to revoke these tax policies democratically for months now, but what were the answers? When we say we cannot survive because of taxes, they increase the electricity tariffs and banks increase rates. Doing so, they (Government) celebrate Independence by firing shots at the sea, and bowing to a log placed on the back of an elephant in Kandy (a reference to the Janaraja Perahera which was held in Kandy on 19 February). Are these leaders? We are telling the President and the Government that if our fight is not enough to solve this problem, we are ready to take more action. If the Government likes us launching a one day strike, we are ready to do it, and if it wants us to launch a continuous strike, we are ready to do it too. All categories of professionals are together and we will definitely defeat these tax revisions.”
Dr. Charudaththe Illangasinghe of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) also spoke during the protest and said: “If Wickremesinghe and the Government think that they can do anything as they like, this is where they will realise that they are wrong. We will launch a strike on 1 March, and continue this battle until we win. We are not willing to pay taxes for the mistakes of the rulers. We will be giving the best possible answer to the Government that is strangling the people’s necks day by day. Until then, this battle will not be reversed.”
“We must tell Wickremesinghe that if the taxes are not reversed before the Sinhala and Tamil new year, we will reverse the Government. All the trade unions have come together now. We can assure that this is a winnable battle and not a battle that will end in defeat. We will definitely win or send the Government home. We ask the Wickremesinghe led Government to reverse these tax policies in a respectable manner. If not, we know how to answer them. The trade unions within the CEB will join any action which will be taken against these tax revisions,” said Ranjan Jayalal, who was representing the trade unions within the CEB.
Petroleum Trade Unions Confederation Convenor Ananda Palitha also spoke during the protest, and said: “These trade unions have come together not only for the professionals who have become helpless due to these tax revisions, but also for the people whose right to life is being taken away by this Government. If the Government is not ready to reverse these taxes, we are ready to do it. We can say with great confidence that this struggle will end up winning. It is certain that Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksas (a reference to former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and incumbent Government Parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa) will be kicked out.”
The trade unions collective against the newly introduced tax policies once again declared another “black week”, demanding that the tax revisions in question be revoked, and be replaced with fair revisions. In view of the previous black week, employees of public institutions had reported for duty in black attire and wearing black armbands, while black flags and banners had been hoisted at several State institution premises including the National Hospital in Colombo.