Death threats to “Suwa Seriya” Union leaders

It is revealed that there are death threats to the Office Bearers of the “Suwa Seriya” Trade Union. Mayumi Priyangika, the Secretary of the Union, has complained about this threat to the Nittambuwa Police. She says some workers are making bogus complaints against her to disrupt the activities of the Union.

Management of the “Suwa Seriya Foundation” has suspended three office-bearers of the Trade Union for holding a press conference to express their grievances. Suwa Seriya is an emergency ambulance service established in 2016 by the previous Yahapalana (good governance) government with ambulances donated by the Indian Government at the request of the former Minister Dr Harsha De Silva. This organization was incorporated as “Suwa Seriya Foundation” by an act of Parliament in 2018. During the previous government, this service came under Dr Harsha De Silva then Ministerhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-cabinet_minister_(Sri_Lanka) of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution. Under the present government, it comes under the Ministry of Health.

This service has 297 ambulances operating within all island. Every ambulance is attached to a police station. Two well-trained staff to handle patients have been assigned to each ambulance. This service is available around the clock and staff working on a 24-hour shift basis. Especially when an accident occurs, within a very short period they reach the patient and safely carry them to the nearest hospital. In addition to wounded patients by accidents, they are ready to carry other patients also. It is reported around 100 babies delivered in these ambulances while transportation to the hospital under the aid of these staff.

During the COVID-19 pandemic situation, these workers are doing a supreme service to the  society. When a health officer identified a COVID-19 infected patient the first people to reach them is Suwa Seriya staff.  It is their responsibility to carry these patients to hospitals. Despite being essential frontline workers, they have not provided with sufficient personal protection equipment. When a corona affected patient was taken to a hospital these ambulances should be properly disinfected, but it does not happen. When they return to the police station after carrying a corona infected patient, there is a high risk of infecting virus to the others since these staff use washrooms and toilets with others. There are no separate changing rooms. Sometimes when accidents occur at night, Suwa Seriya staff alone attend to the injured using the scoop stretcher to carry the patient to the ambulance and then take to the hospital.

Even though these frontline workers make numerous sacrifices and take an enormous risk, they are not given adequate facilities. These workers have to be in readiness to start the work within 1 1/2 minutes after receiving a call. Therefore they have to be in a place which is close to their vehicle. But in police stations, they can’t find such places and most of the time they are staying in the ambulance itself. During the night usually female staff are staying in female police quarters and males are in male quarters. There is no particular time for lunch. If there is a call while taking the lunch they have to stop taking meals and go. When attending to a patient they can’t take a rest until the patient admitted to the hospital. Some of the ambulances need repairs. There is a danger to the patients and staff when travelling in old vehicles. At any time these vehicles may break down. A TV channel broadcasted a video which show dilapidated backdoor of an ambulance. Now action has been taken against the photographer of this video clip. 

Continuous complaints to the management about these difficulties have ended in vain. Several occasions workers tried to form a trade union to win these issues, but before the formation of Union leaders were dismissed. This time staff formed the union secretly and informed the Management. They exposed all the difficulties faced by them at the press conference on 24th November. On 25th three office bearers who spoke at the press conference were dismissed.

This action is a total breach of the fundamental rights of a person since the Constitution of the Government assures the right to organize. Further, according to the Trade Union Ordinance, an employer can’t take any action against leaders of a Trade Union for making any statements on behalf of the Union.

The “Power of People” (PWP) newly formed Trade Union alliance has intervened in this matter and written to the Minister of Health to reinstate the suspended workers. If there is no any settlement PWP has decided to launch a demonstration against the Management. Meanwhile, Dr Harsha De Silva, an MP of the so-called opposition is supporting the Government to crush the Union. 

By Wijepala