Colombo Port workers allege ‘Indian pressure’, to go on indefinite strike over ECT development

Colombo, July 2

Workers at the strategic Colombo Port on Thursday threatened to go on an indefinite strike to protest against the “Indian pressure” to prevent Sri Lanka from developing a deep-sea container terminal of the country’s largest and busiest port.

The announcement of the strike comes a day after Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told reporters that no final decision had been made yet to hand over the development of the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) to India.

“This was a diplomatic agreement with India signed by the last government — an agreement between President Sirisena and Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi,” he said.

The previous Sirisena government had signed a “memorandum of cooperation” (MOC) with India and Japan for a tripartite effort to develop the ECT which is located just next to the $500 million Chinese-run Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).

Although the MOC was completed last year, a formal agreement for the terminal development is yet to be signed and the trade unions have been pressing the government to abandon the MOC and develop the terminal as a 100 per cent Sri Lankan venture.

“We will go on an indefinite strike until the matter is resolved,” said Prasanna Kalutharage, a trade union leader.

“We have decided to take this issue further and we hope to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” he said, adding that their talks with the ports minister had not been fruitful.

The trade unions are protesting against the alleged “Indian pressure” to prevent Sri Lanka from developing the ECT on its own.

Last week, the port workers staged demonstrations to urge the authorities to install three newly-imported gantry cranes at the ECT. The cranes had been imported to be installed at the Jaya Container Terminal which is run by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

The port workers demanded the government install the cranes at the ECT to scuttle the MOC between India and Japan. At least three workers mounted a gantry crane at the port on Wednesday demanding the state consent to run the ECT terminal by the SLPA.

“We have had talks with the trade unionist to settle the issue amicably. The gantry cranes were not imported for the ECT but for another terminal,” said Daya Ratnayake, the SLPA chairman.

Trade unions have called for the expediting of the development of the East Terminal and are against handing it over to a foreign country.  Colombo Port is the largest and busiest port in Sri Lanka. Located on the southwestern shores on the Kelani River, it serves as an important terminal in Asia due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. PTI

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