Colombo, Mar 15 (EFE).- Sri Lankan state employees on Wednesday launched a massive strike in protest against the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund to process a bailout package for helping the island come out of the serious economic crisis it has been witnessing since last year.
“Today’s strike is a historic one. Through this, we are sending a clear message to the government that the working class is objecting to the government’s decisions,” the president of the College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS), Ravi Kumudesh told EFE after taking part in the strike.
State-sector employees have opposed the conditions imposed by the IMF for extending a credit line worth $2.9 billion, including a general hike in taxes and prices even as a large section of the population is struggling for day-to-day survival due to the crisis.
The protesters’ main demands include the reduction of high bank interest rates, offering an allowance to state workers to face the deteriorating quality of life and cuts in electricity and fuel prices.
“We have given the government a seven-day period to provide solutions to these demands. If they fail, we are hoping to launch a much bigger movement along with the general public,” Kumudesh added.
The country almost came to a standstill due to the strike, with railway stations sporting a deserted look, schools being closed and patients waiting for hours for getting medical attention at public health facilities.
Few vehicles and buses could be seen on Colombo’s streets, amid massive police deployment at some train stations.
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe had last week warned in the parliament that if the IMF bailout package was disrupted by civil unrest, “this government will act strongly on it.”
“If the groups that can influence society disrupt the program that we have proposed through various measures, the social alternative that will emerge from it will be extremely dangerous. It could lead to a period of unprecedented woes in our society,” the president said.
Sri Lanka sought IMF assistance in March 2022 to fight its worst economic crisis since independence from the British in 1948.
The government is hoping that the package would get approved by the end of this month, after China offered last week to furnish guarantees to the IMF for restructuring Colombo’s debt.
The crisis that has engulfed the island since last year has been attributed to errant fiscal policies and sky-high debt, apart from a sharp drop in foreign currency inflow during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sri Lanka has an annual debt load of around $6 billion for the next five years, around 10 times higher than its current foreign currency reserves. EFE