Colombo: The president of Sri Lanka effectively banned union action on Saturday against a controversial energy deal with an American company in an attempt to defeat dissent in his coalition government.
The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) agreed last month to sell a 40 percent stake in its thermal power plant outside Colombo to New Fortress Energy, a move according to the unions that gives the U.S. company a monopoly on LNG sales in the country.
“We will have a large protest rally on Wednesday to get all our members out of the power stations,” CEB union leader Ranjan Jayalal told AFP.
“If the government does not remedy the situation by then, there will be a general strike. Electricity union strikes usually lead to blackouts in Sri Lanka.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s “Essential Services” Ordinance prohibits collective action in many public service sectors, including energy, banking and food distribution, and aims to reduce possible work stoppages supported by its partners juniors unhappy with the coalition.
Saturday’s decree could send those who violate the order to jail for up to five years.
The deal, which the central bank says will generate $ 250 million for the cash-strapped Sri Lankan state, has been criticized by Rajapaksa’s coalition partners for taking place behind closed doors and intensifying rifts within of the government.
“No government in the past has carried out such a transaction in total violation of tender procedures,” said Oil Minister Udaya Gammanpila, who heads a small nationalist party in Rajapaksa’s cabinet.
Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa, another coalition partner, has said he will relinquish his portfolio if the government finalizes the deal on the new fortress.
Rajapaksa left for the COP26 summit in Glasgow shortly after the decree was announced.
Cracks in his two-year government have surfaced as the country grabs protests from farmers demanding chemical fertilizers, which were banned earlier this year.
Faced with the prospect of poor harvests and food shortages within months, the government relaxed the ban on importing agrochemicals, but a shortage of foreign exchange prevented imports.
The foreign exchange crisis has also resulted in shortages of imported milk powder, sugar, wheat flour as well as industrial raw materials such as cement.