Ahead of planned union strike, Sri Lanka imposes ban on strikes in key sectors

Authorities have attempted to shut down growing protests with repressive police action, which has already caused the death of a protester, and a ban on strikes

February 28, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Sri Lanka protest ban
(Photo: via News First)

A day ahead of a mass demonstration announced by unions in Sri Lanka to protest the unpopular tax hikes and increase in utility bills, President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has banned strikes in several key sectors.

On Tuesday, February 28, the government warned that groups defying the announcement will face strict consequences under emergency laws. The announcement is being viewed as an attempt to outlaw the planned trade union strike, which is being organized in the context of nation-wide protests.

The ban on all strikes also comes after 61-year-old Nimal Amarasiri of National People’s Power was declared dead after he was injured by police during the mass protests in Colombo on Sunday, February 26. Sunday’s protests were organized in opposition to the government’s decision to postpone local elections citing a lack of resources due to th economic crisis. The police resorted to the use of force to disperse them. At least 28 people were hospitalized in the police action.

Following the mass protests, Amnesty International issued a statement on February 27, condemning the actions taken by the Sri Lankan police. Harindrini Corea, the regional researcher for the Right to Protest at Amnesty International, stated: “It is worrying that even after months of widespread protests in the country, the Sri Lankan police needs to be constantly reminded of their duty to facilitate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and exercise restraint in the use of force while policing assemblies. Their actions over the last several months have cost the lives of many peaceful protestors including another death today.”

Sri Lanka is in the midst of its worst-ever economic crisis, triggered by a failure to repay its foreign debts. It is currently facing shortages of food, fuel, cooking gas, and medicine. The Sri Lankan economy has seen an acute shortage of foreign currency, almost no liquidity, and hyperinflation through the year. 

The national currency lost over 60% of its value in 2022 after the central bank printed billions of Sri Lankan rupees to finance government revenue, which resulted in inflation soaring to a record 73% in September—forcing millions of people to skip meals to make ends meet. 

Under the presidency of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed in July 2022, a rescue package of USD 2.9 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) remains in the pipeline, which is to be finalized after Sri Lankan creditors give assurances on debt restructuring.