Sri Lanka bans strikes over opposition to power deal

Unions slam agreement with U.S. firm

Published - October 30, 2021 10:00 pm IST - Colombo

A Sri Lanka state-owned Ceylon Electric board worker takes part in a protest against the proposed sale of 40% of a thermal power station to a US company, in Colombo on October 29, 2021.

A Sri Lanka state-owned Ceylon Electric board worker takes part in a protest against the proposed sale of 40% of a thermal power station to a US company, in Colombo on October 29, 2021.

Sri Lanka’s President on Saturday effectively banned trade union action against a controversial energy deal with a U.S. firm in an attempt to scupper dissent within his coalition government.

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) last month agreed to sell a 40% stake in its thermal power plant outside Colombo to New Fortress Energy, a move trade unions say hands the U.S. firm a monopoly over LNG sales to the country.

“We will have a mass protest rally on Wednesday bringing all our members out from power stations,” CEB trade union leader Ranjan Jayalal said.

“If the government fails to remedy the situation by then, there will be a general strike.”

Strikes by electricity unions usually lead to blackouts in Sri Lanka.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s “essential services” order prohibits collective action across numerous public service sectors, including energy, banking, and food distribution, and is aimed at curtailing possible work-stoppages backed by his disgruntled junior coalition partners.

Saturday’s decree could send those who violate the order to prison for up to five years. The deal, which according to the central bank will generate $250 million for Sri Lanka’s cash-strapped state, has been slammed by Mr. Rajapaksa’s coalition partners for having taken place behind closed doors and intensified fissures within the government.

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