Railway Strikes: Grumpy Men on Tracks Jeopardise Nation

These strikes leave no choice but to consider drastic measures. It is imperative to consider training military personnel and other capable individuals to operate these essential services.

2 mins read
A schoolchild hangs precariously on a closed train door during the railway strike this morning, July 10, 2024. [Photo: Social Media]

The ongoing railway strikes, fueled by discontent among railway workers, have once again disrupted the nation’s transport system, leaving commuters stranded and businesses struggling. The stubbornness of these disgruntled workers, represented by their refusal to compromise on demands amidst worsening service conditions, reflects a troubling trend. This deadlock not only worsens public inconvenience but also emphasizes the urgent need for comprehensive reforms within the railway sector to ensure dependable and efficient service delivery for all citizens. This strike, ostensibly over administrative issues and staffing concerns, has highlighted a deeper malaise within Sri Lanka Railways that demands urgent attention.

Let’s examine the situation. Sri Lanka Railways, a legacy from the colonial era, should be a vital part of the nation’s infrastructure, facilitating efficient travel and commerce across the island. Instead, it has become a symbol of inefficiency and neglect. Most of the engines and tracks where these strikes occur are remnants from the 1960s and 70s, while modern railway systems elsewhere have long since upgraded to meet current demands.

The grievances voiced by the striking workers are justified. They cite a lack of technical expertise among lower ranks and a top leadership more interested in personal gain than service delivery. However, the chosen method to voice these grievances — disrupting essential services — is irresponsible and harmful to the public interest.

What is particularly frustrating is the timing and nature of their demands. While the workers claim they are not solely seeking pay increases but addressing systemic issues, their actions speak louder than words. By halting rail services, they have shown a disregard for the numerous commuters who depend on trains for their daily journeys. This includes ordinary citizens trying to earn a living, school children seeking education, and businesses striving to maintain operations.

The strike also exposes a fundamental lack of accountability and foresight on the part of both the government and the involved unions. The government’s failure to tackle long-standing issues within the railway system, such as inadequate safety measures and outdated infrastructure, has contributed to worker frustration. On the other hand, the unions’ insistence on strikes as the main negotiation tool reflects a short-term approach that neglects broader societal impacts.

It is crucial that both sides come to the table with a genuine commitment to resolving these issues through dialogue and constructive engagement. Sri Lanka Railways cannot afford to continue in a state of perpetual crisis, where strikes are viewed as the only means to voice grievances. There must be a concerted effort to modernise infrastructure, enhance safety standards, and invest in training and developing railway personnel.

While we condemn the disruption caused by these strikes, we must also recognise the underlying issues that have led to this situation. Sri Lanka Railways urgently needs reform and rejuvenation, not just to pacify dissatisfied workers but to fulfil its role as a cornerstone of national transportation infrastructure. The government, the unions, and all stakeholders must prioritise public interest above all else and work towards a sustainable solution that ensures reliable and efficient rail services for all Sri Lankans.

While the grievances of railway workers may be legitimate, their methods are unacceptable and detrimental to the nation. Consequently, these strikes leave us no choice but to consider drastic measures. It is imperative to train military personnel and other capable individuals to operate these essential services in the absence of these opportunists. Such critical infrastructures should not be held hostage to political manoeuvring orchestrated by vested interests and shameless trade unions. The future of our nation’s transportation system demands unwavering commitment to stability, efficiency, and above all, the welfare of our citizens.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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