Sri Lanka shifts May Day to May 7

Buddhist clergy had sought to postpone workers day events due to Vesak week

March 28, 2018 09:22 pm | Updated 10:38 pm IST - COLOMBO

The Sri Lankan government has decided to postpone International Workers’ Day events from May 1 to May 7 this year, to avoid an overlap with the Buddhist festival of Vesak.

The government announced a Cabinet decision to this effect on Wednesday. May Day is being postponed to 7th of the month, “giving priority for religious activities in Vesak week”, a press release from President Maithripala Sirisena’s Office said.

The decision, the statement said, was taken after considering a request made by the Maha Sangha, a venerated and influential body of the Buddhist clergy. Known as ‘Buddha Purnima’ or ‘Buddha Jayanti’, Vesak Day commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.

The Sinhalese majority marks the festival with elaborate, week-long celebrations across the island, putting up lanterns in public spaces and decorating Buddha statues in pandals. As per the Sinhalese calendar, Vesak week often falls in May, but this year it begins on April 29 and 30.

The President has requested political parties and trade unions to join the Workers’ Day celebration on May 7, but trade unionists see little reason to postpone the May Day rallies.

According to Linus Jayatilleke, president of the United Federation of Labour, May Days have never been postponed in the country.

Curbs in the past

“May Day events were banned in 1987 when the UNP was in power, because of the political situation. Another time in 1996, during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure, processions were disallowed because of security reasons, but meetings were permitted. But working people violated both those bans and took to the streets,” he said.

Trade unions from different sectors are scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.

“May 1 is significant internationally, and commemorates the crucial gains made by working class struggles. The government may have ulterior motives to do this, fearing it might not be able to mobilise huge numbers from its own unions,” Mr. Jayatilleke said, adding that the working people in Sri Lankawould gather in large numbers on May 1 to assert their rights.

“It’s not just about Vesak, whether it is Christmas or any other religious festival, May Day events will not interfere with those and must be held on May 1,” he said.

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