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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Avoid a showdown! University Academics salary demands:

The Island, May 12, 2011, 12:00 pm, By Kumudu Kusum Kumara
The government and the university academics are heading for a showdown which should be avoided lest the university system will breakdown.

Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) has embarked on trade union action where its members have with effect from 9th May, 2011 resigned en masse from all voluntary administrative posts they held and would refrain from participation in GCE A/L Examination related work in August 2011.

The point I want to make in this brief intervention as an academic with the hope that it would contribute toward diffusing the crisis, is that what began as a salary issue has now been extended to a matter of dignity of and respect for the profession. According to FUTA sources, already large numbers of academics from almost all the universities representing all departments, in all the faculties in the university system have tendered resignations and even as I conclude this article there do not seem to be any sign of them letting up. While sister unions that comprise the FUTA keep on reiterating their resolve to remain in the trade union action, even those who were not involved initially are organising themselves to join the action.

The government has threatened the academics with legal action, and portrays their demand for a salary increase as unfair, unpatriotic and politically motivated. .

Salary increase

The government claims that the "university academics were granted 36.25 per cent salary increase in the 2011 budget while only a five per cent increase was granted to other public servants."

The university academics point out that this statement is inaccurate. They argue that while they got the 5% salary increase given to all public servants, and a 25% increase of the existing Academic Allowance which is equivalent to 25% of the basic salary. Thus the increase in the academic allowance is equivalent to a 6.25 % increase of the basic salary.

Academics point out that there is a difference between a salary increase and an increase of an allowance which has consequences for the final salary package one gets. Even if one leave out this issue of the difference between salary and allowance which may be taken to be an academic exercise by some, with the increase of the academic allowance the increase to the total salary is (5%+ 6.25%) 11. 25 %.

Research allowance is not a salary increase

The other 25 percent which government claims a salary increase is NOT a salary increase.

It is a research allowance which has to be earned by each individual academic on a yearly basis with many conditions attached to its implementation.

Moreover the same 25 per cent research allowance has been offered to Senior Level Officers engaged in research work in the public sector, and not only to university academics.

With regard to this allowance so far three circulars have been issued between 10th March and 20th April 2011, two from the Management Services of the General Treasury under the signature of P.B.Jayasundera, Secretary to the Treasury and the Ministry of Finance and Planning and a third one under the signature of Dr. Sunil Jayantha Nawaratne, Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education.

The standards set in the first circular, no doubt with the laudable intention of improving the quality of research in the country to reach international standards (unfortunately, however, lacking in due attention paid to its operability in terms of the historical reality in which our university academics has been located), have been watered down in the letter two, apparently due to political pressure to make it easier for everyone to get the 25 percent research allowance.

The objective of the government clearly is to make the members of the academic community feel that the 25 percent research allowance is equal to a virtual salary increase. The actual reality of this claim will only unravel as these circulars go through its implementation with the modus operandi of the University Research Committees and the Faculty Research Committees, which are to be the approving bodies for research that would qualify to win the 25 percent research allowance for one year.

Obviously, the university academic community does not consider the above 25 percent research allowance a salary increase. What they are demanding through engaging in trade union action is negotiations on what they claim a salary increase the government has agreed they deserve.

Difficult times and negotiations

Minister of Higher Education, S. B. Dissanayake is on record saying that "[W]e accept that university academics need a pay increase. But not at a time the country is facing a difficult situation politically and economically" (Daily Mirror on line, Saturday, 07 May 2011). When the government says that due to economic and political reasons it is not in a position to pay the salary increase that they agree the university academics deserve, then the best course of action to diffuse the situation is to invite the FUTA to a discussion on that matter.

The Minister is also on record saying that the FUTA "can bring their grievances to President Mahinda Rajapaksa or the Higher Education Ministry at any time and resolve these matters." FUTA states that the Minster at a meeting with FUTA "promised that he would arrange a meeting with the President in order to discuss the matter. Although FUTA sent a letter through the Minister to the President in line with this undertaking, FUTA is yet to receive an acknowledgement, let alone an appointment, from the office of the President." It seems it is essential that the mistrust that, the above scenario shows, has developed between the university academic community and the government needs to be diffused immediately by reviving talks between the two parties.

For this to happen it is necessary that the government takes the university academic community into its confidence as a "stakeholder" as it is fashionably said these days, rather than an enemy of the educational reforms it intends to introduce, which essentially should involve the issue of salaries of the academics.

To begin with, it is necessary for the government to seriously address the FUTA claim that the government and authorities have been making statements "that seek to both degrade the credentials and status and to cast aspersions on the reputation and conduct of university teachers, with ill-founded allegations and accusations."

It is unfortunate that the government in its efforts to discredit the FUTA demand for a salary increase has taken the usual path of discrediting the university academic community treating it as an enemy.

University academics are not terrorists. Neither are they rebellious young university students.

The argument presented by the government that "many FUTA members are anti-government" may earn some credibility in the eyes of the public given the appearance of some publicly known personalities affiliated to political parties on the FUTA platform or that the UNP and the JVP are taking an interest in this issue to get some political mileage out of it. But members of university teachers unions across the island which send its representatives to the executive committee of the FUTA know that this is not true. University teachers unions that are members of the FUTA are not politically affiliated. However, it is natural that their members may belong to various political parties or subscribe to political ideologies found in the country. What is important is that FUTA does not represent the views of any or some political parties but the views of its membership.

University academic community in Sri Lanka has a long history. This is not the first time that they have been engaged in trade union action or salary demands. The long drawn struggle fought by University academics under the leadership of Prof. Nalin de Silva to win their salary demands is history now. Never in history have they been treated as enemies by the administration or the government and thereby even in engaging in trade union action, relations between the academics and the authorities and the government have never been on enemy level. As it is mostly academics who hold positions of authority in the university administration, there is never an issue of outright hostility towards each other in carrying out trade union action. It is rather unfortunate if at this juncture such an enmity develops as it would sow disharmony among the academia thus affecting its unity in caring for the advancement of higher education which is their common goal.

If the government is to achieve its vision of turning Sri Lanka into a knowledge hub in Asia and raise the standards of its universities to international levels then it is imperative that it should take into confidence the university academic community in carrying out such reforms.

Hence running down the academic community in the eyes of the public in order to avert the demand for a salary increase may bring about antagonisms not only between the authorities and the academia, but also within the academia as this situation demands the academics to choose political camps on the lines of allegiance to government labelling all those who are involved in trade union action as enemies or traitors of a nation building project.

The writer is a member of the Arts Faculty Teachers Union, University of Colombo.

1. (Management Services Circular No: 44, 10.03.2011 http://www.treasury.gov.lk/BOM/msd/circulardocs/msd-2011-44-eng.pdf

2. Management Services Circular No: 44 (i), and 15.03.2011 http://www.treasury.gov.lk/BOM/msd/circulardocs/msd-2011-44%28i%29-eng.pdf

3. Higher Education Circular No: 1/ 2011) on 20th April 2011. http://www.ugc.ac.lk/en/policy/other-circular-letters/93-higher-education-circular-no-1-2011/866-payment-of-research-allowance-in-terms-of-budget-proposals-2011.html

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Trade Union Action of University Academics

The Island, 11/05/2006

The University academics have finally resorted to trade union action after years of discussions and negotiations, with the authorities, proved to be futile. The FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations) has on several previous occasions postponed such action due to the promises made by the relevant authorities to implement a reasonable salary scheme for the academics. Attempts are now being made to impress upon the general public that a pay rise of 31 % has been granted and that the trade union action is quite unreasonable. The purpose of this article is to appraise the public at large of the prevailing situation with regard to the salaries of university academics.

A position as a university academic in any country is bestowed with social respect and dignity. All the universities anywhere in the world take efforts to recruit and retain people with highest academic achievements by offering them attractive wages and other benefits. Countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, China and India with high economic growth rates have invested heavily in education, particularly in tertiary (university) education and Research & Development. However, the situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated so badly during the last few decades that we have been unable to recruit and retain best quality young academics. In fact we have the lowest academic salaries when considered internationally, regionally or even locally.

In 1970s, the first preference of a young graduate with 1st or 2nd class (Upper Division) was to join the university staff. The starting salary of an Assistant Lecturer then was Rs. 700/=. Another option available was to join the Central Bank for a salary of Rs.600/=. The salary of a Member of the Parliament then was about Rs.600/=.

The situation today is so lopsided that one may tend to think that the bureaucratic machinery has, over the years, through various salary revisions deliberately acted to undermine the academic community. Today, the starting salary of a university Lecturer at entry level is Rs. 26,900/=. According to an advertisement of the Central Bank (with closing date of 6th April 2007) a management trainee (with similar qualifications required for a Lecturer) is paid Rs. 45,000/= during two years of training and Staff Grade I salary of Rs. 63,000/= thereafter. For non-staff class grade II appointments, according to the same advertisement, one gets Rs. 25,000/= during training period and Rs. 37,000/= thereafter. The minimum educational qualification required for this latter post is only three C passes at G.C.E (A/L) examination. It should be made clear that a person in the Central Bank with just three A/L passes gets Rs. 37,000/= while a Lecturer in a University with a 1st class (or 2nd upper) special degree gets only a basic salary of Rs. 26,900/=!. The academic staff of Sri Lankan universities must be commended for performing their duties for so long under such humiliating conditions. Incidentally, an MP now gets a basic salary of Rs. 54,000/=. This information is summarized below (Table 1).

The salaries of Senior Lecturers and Professors are also alarmingly poor when compared with parallel grades in the Central Bank and private sector organizations.

In addition to this basic salary an academic member used to get 30% of the basic salary as an academic allowance, which was reduced to 25% a few years back. Thus a Senior professor gets a salary of around Rs. 72,200/=. We invite you to compare this salary with what is offered by the Central Bank for a special degree graduate with just 5 years experience and no post-graduate requirements . According to an advertisement of the Central Bank for the recruitment to the post of Engineer, such an employee gets a starting salary of Rs. 80,000/= (basic salary + bonus of 2 months salary per year). One can become a Senior Professor in a university only if he/she has post-graduate qualifications and extensive experience in teaching and research and by going through a stringent sequence of promotions. The situation is an insult to the academia to say the least.

The claim that the salaries of our university academics have been increased by 36.25 % recently is far from reality. It is true that we get the 5% general increase proposed in the 2011 budget and the additional 6.25%. The so called research allowance of 25 % of the salary is tagged with a highly unrealistic procedure that hardly anybody would get it.

The Global Scenario

An educated population is an asset to a country and the money spent on education is an investment. The global average of GDP spent on education is about 5.5 % with Cuba at top of the list spending 13.6 % of GDP on education in 2008. The amount of money spent on education by some of the countries in the South Asian region is as follows (World Bank data).

Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Malaysia (also Singapore and Brunei) are among the countries that offer high salaries for university academics. China and India have recently increased the salaries of academics to an acceptable level. Subsequent to the recommendations of the 6th Pay commission, 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. It is worth mentioning that, in addition to such salary, they are also given a housing allowance (up to 30 % basic salary), a transport allowance and an allowance for the education of their children.

It should be clear to any reasonably thinking person that the university academics have been reluctantly compelled to take this trade union action due to the repeated failure by the authorities to comprehend the gravity of the situation and grant a reasonable salary increase to the university academics. Finally, it is hoped that, at least at this late stage, the relevant authorities would have the impulse to be different and demonstrate some attributes of prudent professionalism in solving this national problem.

Members of the Peradeniya University Science Teachers Association

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

විශ්ව විද්‍යාල අචාරවරුන්ගේ අර්බුදය

Sri Lanka Guardian,

ටිල්වින් සිල්වා

විශ්වවද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් තමන්ට වැටුප් වැඩිවීමක් ලබා දෙන ලෙස ඉල්ලා වෘත්තිය ක්‍රියාමාර්ගවලට යොමු වෙලා තිඛෙනවා. අපි දකින ආකාරයට මේ වෘත්තිය ක්‍රියාමාර්ගය ඉතාම සාධාරණයි. ඒ නිසා අපි ඊට අපේ පූර්ණ සහාය පළ කරනවා. ඒ වගේම අපි ආණ්ඩුවට බල කර කියා සිටිනවා, වහාම ඔවුන්ගේ ගැටලූව විසඳන්න කියලා.

ආණ්ඩුව විවිධ ජන කණ්ඩායම් රවටමින් ප්‍රශ්න මග හැර යාමේ ක්‍රියාවලියක් අනුගමනය කළා. විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් සම්බන්ධයෙනුත් ඔවුන් අනුගමනය කළේ එවැනිම ක්‍රියාමාර්ගයක්.

මුලින්ම විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් වැටුප් වැඩිවීමක් ඉල්ලූවේ 2007 අවුරුද්දේදී. නමුත් ආණ්ඩුව එය නොසලකා හැරියා. ඊට පසුව 2008 ජනවාරි 31 වැනිදා, පළාත් සභා මැතිවරණය අතරතුරදී ජනාධිපතිවරයා විශ්වවිද්‍ය ාල ආචාර්යවරුන් අරලියගහ මන්දිරයට කැඳවලා ඔවුන් සමග සාකච්ඡා කළා. එහිදී ඔවුන්ගේ ඉල්ලීම් සාධාරණ බව පිළිගත් ජනාධිපතිවරයා මාස තුනක් තුළ වැටුප් වැඩිවීමක් ඇතුළු ඉල්ලීම් ලබා දෙන්න පොරොන්දු වුණා. නමුත් ඒ පොරොන්දුව ඉටු කළේ නැහැ.

ඊට පස්සේ 2009 මාර්තු 24 වැනිදා ජාතික වැටුප් හා සේවක සංඛ්‍යා කොමිෂන් සභාවෙන් ලියුමක් එවමින් සඳහන් කර තිඛෙනවා, විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ වැටුප් අර්බුදය විසඳන්න ප්‍රමාද වුණා. නමුත් මාසයක් තුළ ඔවුන්ට ගැලපෙන වැටුප් ව්‍යූහයක් සකස් කොට ඒ සඳහා ප්‍රමුඛතාව ලබා දී වැටුප් වැඩි කරන බවට. නමුත් ජාතික වැටුප් හා සේවක සංඛ්‍යා කොමිෂන් සභාව දුන්නු ඒ පොරොන්දුවත් කඩ කළා.

ඉන් පසුව 2009 දෙසැම්බර් මාසේ 09 වැනිදා බැසිල් රාජපක්ෂ මහත්මයා විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් එක්ක සාකච්ඡාවක් පවත්වා වැටුප් වැඩිවීමක් ලබා දෙන බවට පොරොන්දු වුණා. ඒ විතරක් නොවෙයි, ඒ වැටුප් වැඩිවීම 2009 දෙසැම්බර් පළමු වැනිදා සිට ලබා දෙන්නත් ඒ වගේම ඔවුන්ගේ අධ්‍යයන දීමනාව දෙගුණයක් දක්වා එනම් 25% සිට 50% දක්වා වැඩි කරන්නත් පොරොන්දු වුණා. ඒ පොරොන්දුව ඉටු කිරීමත් මග හැරියා.
ඒ අනුවයි විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් මේ වෘත්තිය ක්‍රියාමාර්ගයට අවතීර්ණ වුණේ.

2010 ජූලි මාසයේ 20 වැනිදා ජනතා විමුක්ති පෙරමුණේ දේශපාලන මණ්ඩල සභික, පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රී කණ්ඩායමේ නායක අනුර දිසානායක සහෝදරයා මේ ප්‍රශ්නය පාර්ලිමේන්තුවට ගෙන ගියා. එහිදී එස් බී දිසානායක, උසස් අධ්‍යාපන ඇමතිවරයාගේ උත්තරය වුණේ, දැනට රුපියල් 20,750ක අවම වැටුපක් ලබන ආධුනික කථීකාචාර්යවරයකුගේ වැටුප රුපියල් 72,000ක් දක්වාත් ඒ වගේම දැනට රුපියල් 57,755ක වැටුපක් ලබන ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ මහාචාර්යවරයකුගේ වැටුප රුපියල් ලක්ෂ දෙකක් දක්වාත් වැඩි කළ යුතුයි, ඒ සඳහා වැඩ කරමින් ඉන්නවා කියලායි. නමුත් ඒ කිසිවක් ඉටු කළේ නැහැ.

මේ නිසා විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් ස්වේච්ඡා තනතුරුවලින් ඉවත් වෙන්නත් උසස් පෙළ විභග ප්‍රශ්න පත්‍ර ඇගැයීම්වලින් ඉවත් වෙන්නත් තීරණය කර තිඛෙනවා. මේ නිසා විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පද්ධතිය පවත්වාගෙන යා නොහැකි තත්වයක් උද්ගත වෙමින් තිඛෙනවා.

දැන් ආණ්ඩුව උත්සාහ කරනවා එක පැත්තකින් මේ වෘත්තිය ක්‍රියාමාර්ගය මර්දනය කරන්න, ඒ වගේම අනෙක් පැත්තෙන් විවිධ සදාචාර ප්‍රශ්න මතු කරන්න. ඇත්තටම ගත්තොත් සදාචාර විරෝධී ලෙස කටයුතු කර තිඛෙන්නේ ආණ්ඩුවයි.

ආසියානු කලාපය අරගෙන බැලූවොත් අපේ රටේ තමයි විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් අඩුම වැටුපක් ලබන්නේ. අපටත් වඩා දුප්පත් රටක් වුණු බංගලාදේශයේ ජ්‍යේෂඨ මහාචාර්යවරයකුගේ වැටුප ලංකාවේ මුදලින් රුපියල් 64,915ක්. පාකිස්ථානයේ එය ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මුදලින් ගත්තොත් රුපියල් 2,37,272ක්. ඉන්දියාවේ 1,17,682ක්.
ආණ්ඩුව කියන ආර්ථීක වර්ධනය තිඛෙනවා නම් මේ වැටුප් වැඩිවීම ලබා දෙන එක අමාරු දෙයක් නොවෙයි. මොකද විශ්වවිද ්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් ඉන්නේ ඉතාම සීමිත පිරිසක්.
මේ වැටුප් අර්බුදය නිසා මේ වන විට ඉතා බරපතළ ගැටලූ ගණනාවක් මතු වී තිඛෙනවා. එකක් තමයි, ආණ්ඩුවම කියන විදියට පසුගිය වසර දෙක තුන තුළ විවිධ හේතු සඳහා නිවාඩු ලබා ගෙන විදේශ ගත වූ විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන් 550ක් නැවත දිවයිනට පැමිණ නැහැ. මේක බුද්ධිගලනය පිළිබඳ ප්‍රශ්නයක්. මහින්ද චින්තනයේ කියලා තිඛෙන්නේ මොකක්ද? ප්‍රතිබුද්ධිගලනය සඳහා ක්‍රියාමාර්ග හඳුන්වා දෙනවා කියලායි. ඒක කරන්න නම් ඔවුන්ට ගැලපෙන වැටුප් හා පහසුකම් දිය යුතුයි.
ඒ වගේම විශ්වවිද්‍යාලවල සේවයට එන ප්‍රමාණය අඩු වෙලා තිඛෙනවා. මොකද, ආධුනික කථීකාචාර්යවරයකුට ලැඛෙන වැටුප රුපියල් 20750ක් වෙද්දී ඒ සුදුසුකමම තිඛෙන මහබැංකු සේවකයකුට ඒ වගේ දෙගුණයක වැටුපක් ලැඛෙනවා.

විශ්වවිද්‍යාල ආචාර්යවරුන්ට වැටුප් වැඩිවීමක් ලබා දී තිඛෙන්නේ 1996 අවුරුද්දේදී. ඉන් පසුව වැටුප් වැඩිවීමක් දී නැහැ. ආණ්ඩුව 2006දී එතෙක් 30%ක් වූ අධ්‍යයන දීමනාව 25% දක්වා අඩු කරලා මූලික වැටුපට එකතු කළා. ඒ නිසා ඇත්තටම සිද්ධ වෙලා තිඛෙන්නේ ඔවුන්ට ලැඛෙමින් තිබුණු 5%ක් ආණ්ඩුව විසින් කොල්ලකෑම.

2011 අය වැයෙන් අතුරු අධ්‍යයන දීමනාවක් ලෙස 25%ක් ලබා දෙන බව සඳහන් කර තිඛෙනවා. නමුත් ඒක ලබා ගන්න නම් ඔවුන් පර්යේෂණ නිබන්ධනයක් කළ යුතුයි. ඒකත් ජාත්‍යන්තර මට්ටමට ගැලපෙන එකක් වෙන්න ඕන, ඒ වගේම කිසියම් මණ්ඩලයකින් අනුමත වෙන්නත් ඕන, නිත්‍ය රාජකාරිවලට බාධා කර නොගනිමින් පර්යේෂණය කරන්නත් ඕන. යථාර්ථය වෙන්නේ එවැනි එකක් නිවාඩු ලබන්නේ නැතිව කරන්න බැහැ. ඒ නිසා මේ තිඛෙන්නේ හිතාමතාම මගහැර යාමක්.

ඒ වගේම ආණ්ඩුවට අවශ්‍ය වෙලා තිඛෙනවා, විශ්වවිද්‍යාල පද්ධතියට, නිදහස් අධ්‍යාපනයට ස්වාභාවික මරණයක් අත්කර දෙන්න. ඒ නිසායි මේ ආකාරයට කටයුතු කරන්නේ. නමුත් මේක අනියම් ආකාරයකින් සිදු කරන මිනී මැරුමක්.

මේ නිසා මේ විශ්වවිද්‍ය ාල ආචාර්යවරුන්ගේ අරගලය ඉතාම සාධාරණයි. ආණ්ඩුව එම ඉල්ලීම් ලබා දීමට වහාම පියවර ගත යුතුයි. මේ අරගලයට අපි අපේ පූර්ණ සහාය පළ කරනවා.

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