The Sri Lankan University System Commerce Essay

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The Sri Lankan university system is one of the main institutions that produces administrators and officers. These administrators and officers are a key element of the development of the country. The university also performs the important task of training the future generation of youth who complete 13 years of primary and secondary education and enter into tertiary education. In contrast to a traditional university that is isolate and specializes in a certain discipline, the university system today has become a web of institutes catering to many fields of study and engaging with and contributing towards all aspects of life.

There are 15 universities and 16 higher education institutions in Sri Lanka at present. These institutions are organized with the necessary administrative structure and infrastructure to play a vital role in taking in undergraduates, conducting lectures, providing material and human resources, providing welfare facilities etc. Every year, nearly twenty five thousand students graduate and another twenty five thousand students are recruited. There are nearly fourteen thousand academic and non-academic staff members serving to ensure the smooth operation of the university education system.

Article 14:1 of the Sri Lankan Constitution states that trade unions are significant in the management of human resources and in solving problems related to human resources. Therefore, organizing and being involved in trade unions are given official recognition by the constitution of the country. The basis of establishing a trade union is to protect the rights of workers from various forms of exploitation. Thus, the trade union system is primarily interested in workers' demands rather than the smooth functioning of the system within which they operate.


Trade unions within the University of Colombo were the subject of this study. The study attempted to engage with the above notion of the purpose of trade unions by examining the role played by unions of the University of Colombo, their effectiveness and what their role might be, as seen by a group of union activists within the university. There are 10 trade unions functioning in the University of Colombo at present. They are:

The Sri Lanka Freedom Workers Union representing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party

The United Workers Union representing the United National Party

The Inter University Services Trade Union representing the People Liberation Front

4 The Clerical and Industrial Services Union

5. The Technical Officers' Union

6. The Library officials Union

7. The United Laborers Union

8. The Sub wardens' Union

9. The Academic Staff Union

10. The Administrative Staff Union

Trade unions operating within the University of Colombo created the Inter-University Trade Unions Movement by conjoining all the trade unions that were operating within the university system after 1980. However, trade unions in the university reflect the division within the staff as academic, administrative and non-academic cadre who carry out separate sets of tasks within the system. Therefore, it is possible for conflicts of interest to emerge within their working relations. Non-academic staff members consider themselves similar to other public servants; hence, it is natural to take on work ethics and organizational behavior similar to other public sectors. Also, as workers are part of wider society having interests beyond those of the university, their actions relate to the larger context within which universities function as well. Thus, conflicts arise


between academic and non academic staff, non academic staff and managerial establishments as well as university workers and the regimes in power. This becomes apparent through the conflicts that have emerged between university non-academic staff and governments during the last few years as well as continuous conflicts between university authorities and employees. Long lasting strikes and protests damaged not only the university system but also had a wider effect on society as a whole. These strikes resulted in:

postponement of undergraduate and postgraduate academic work resulting in a congestion during the following year;

delays or cancellations of many international conferences and workshops related to higher education;

delays in admitting new entrants to the university affecting the students negatively;

damage to physical resources of the university;

government has to pay the salaries of strikers though they were not engaged in carrying out assigned duties; and

the loss of productive man-days for the entire system.

These factors make apparent that union activities and strikes within the university system could have negatively impact on the university as a whole. On the other hand, there have been positive impacts made by union action taken as well. This dilemma was the main focus of the present study. In order to understand the nature of the overall impact made by trade unions on the university, a systematic research study was undertaken. This study will not only explore the impact of trade union actions on the University of Colombo, but will also come up with proposals on possible alternate methods of carrying out trade union actions where they are seen to have a greater negative impact on the smooth functioning of the university system.


1.2 Justification

The contribution of the tertiary education sector at large, and of university education specifically, to a country's growth is significant. University employees of different categories contribute differently towards the goal of maintaining standards in quality and efficiency of services delivered. On the other hand, the primary purpose of trade union formation and action is to represent and protect the rights of the workers. Clashes between these two goals have lead to improvements for employees as well as destruction to both property and academic work over the years. Therefore, it is relevant to study the impact of trade union action to determine the positive and negative impacts they have had, and to explore means of bringing about harmony between these objectives. The organizing of a university system that functions smoothly will affect the wellbeing of future generations of students as well. This sociological study intends to fill an identified gap in research on the higher education system of Sri Lanka.

1.3 Research problems

This study addresses the following research problem:

What is the nature of the impact made by trade union activity on the smooth functioning of the University of Colombo?

1.4 Research objectives

The main objectives of this research are as follows:

i. to identify the major contributing factors that result in trade union actions;

ii. to examine the impact of trade unions on the smooth functioning of the

university system; and

iii. to identify strategies to bring about a productive and efficient

relationship between trade unions and the university management.


Research methodology

Setting: The research focused on an evaluation of the impact of trade union action in the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka ( see appendix-1 for more information ). This study was conducted in the University of Colombo as it is the foremost metropolitan university situated locally and access to it was relatively easy. It consists of 50 academic departments which are organized under eight Faculties consisting of approximately 8559 students. There are 1495 employees, consisting of 472 academic staff, 101 administrative staff and 922 non-academic staff (Source : General Administration Branch, University of Colombo ).This study intends to examine actions taken from 2001 to 2007 by trade unions operating within the University of Colombo.

Sampling: hundred respondents comprising academic staff, administrative staff, non-academic staff and students made up the group of individuals providing primary data to the research. The sample comprises of both students & staff union leaders. The respondents were selected based on stratified random sampling design includes all faculty and administrative branches as follows:

20 academic staff members which is 5% of the total academic staff of the University of Colombo;

20 administrative staff members, which is 20% of total administrative staff of the University of Colombo;

40 non-academic staff members represented 5% of the total non-academic cadre of the University of Colombo; and

20 Student representing 1% of the resent student population.

Data collection: the study was conducted using primary and secondary sources of data. Secondary data consists of relevant reports, newspapers and journal articles as well as literature pertaining to the subject of study. Primary data was collected through a questionnaire (Please refer appendix -2) circulated among the respondents, as well as through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. Focus groups were conducted to determine the content of the questionnaire and involved clerical staff, library assistants, technical staff as well as minor staff within university trade unions. The questionnaire was prepared after the above focus group discussions to cover the objectives of the study.


Data analysis: SPSS software was used for quantitative data analysis in determining distribution of data more accurately. Patterns and trends in the qualitative information gathered were identified in the process of analysis. Relevant quantitative data is presented as percentages, tables, charts and graphs while qualitative data is discussed under different themes and sub themes.

I explored the following conceptual framework regarding organizational behavior.

Trade union objectives & duties

Trade unions structure

Legal environment

Challenges due to the change of university management

Political power Smooth

Role of functioning

Trade union leadership trade of university

unions system

Work ethics, culture & attitudes of unions' members

Trade union activities & challenges

Source: Own survey

1.6 Limitations

The survey conducted using questionnaires was limited to a small number of respondents due to financial and time constraints


1.7 Chapter Outline

This thesis consists of the following chapters. The first chapter presents an introduction to the research and discusses the methodology of the study. The second chapter brings together theoretical underpinnings of a study of this nature. From presenting definitions of trade unions, to their growth globally and their origins locally, it covers the wider background to a study of trade unions. It also presents the history of the trade union movement and its present manifestations within the University of Colombo providing the immediate backdrop to the present study. Chapter three presents a discussion of a bureaucratic system and its salient points and a few key points regarding organizational behavior drawn from theories of organizational management in the private sector. It attempts to show the need of a possible nexus between the two systems of management in a context such as Sri Lanka. The role of contemporary trade unions within the University of Colombo is analyzed in chapter four. It presents information on impact made, perceptions of the present role and expectations of future functions of trade unions gleaned from respondents. The final chapter summarizes the study and presents recommendations.


Chapter 2

A Theoretical and Conceptual Framework for the Analysis of Trade Unions

2.1 Introduction

This chapter attempts to bring together theoretical and conceptual explorations in specific historical contexts that are relevant to a discussion of trade unions and their actions. Much philosophical and politico-sociological thinking exists regarding this phenomenon and many have carried out empirical research as well. While theoretical exploration and conceptual clarity are essential for an academic reading of this phenomenon, an historical contextualization is also essential to an understanding of the present manifestations of trade unions within the local university context. After all, trade unions do not emerge in the same manner across the world. They unite workers but do so as dictated by the socio-cultural and political specificity of specific locations and temporal moments. As such, an overview of the historical progression of trade unionism globally, and its manifestation locally, will precede the discussion of the Sri Lankan state's relations with the workforce since the emergence of capitalism. This would serve to explain how the legal framework as well as attitude toward labor in general, and trade unions in particular, manifested in Sri Lanka.

2.2 The definition of a trade union

The real importance of trade unions lies in their social, economic and industrial power; they are nevertheless legal entities subject to the law and as such are given a number of legal duties and privileges. Accordingly, a statutory definition of trade unions is necessary and this is done by reference both to its membership and to its purposes.


Thus, a trade union is defined as an "organization (whether permanent or temporary) which consists wholly or mainly of workers of one or more descriptions and is an organization whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between workers of that description or those descriptions and employers or employers' associations" (Kidner 1979: 23). Trade unions may comprise individual workers, professionals, past workers, or the unemployed.

It should be noted that in addition to this definition, further distinctions are made between a listed and an un-listed union, and between one that is "independent" and one that is not. However, neither registration nor independence is necessary to gain trade union status and no legal act of creation is required; and indeed many informal organizations may in fact be trade unions (or employers' associations) without realizing it. But that does not mean that the status is unimportant, nor that the definition does not give rise to difficulty, and a number of points need to be made on it (Kidner 1979: 23).

Since the publication of the History of Trade Unionism (1894) by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the predominant historical view is that a trade union "is a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment." A modern definition by the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that a trade union is "an organization consisting predominantly of employees, the principal activities of which include the negotiation of rates of pay and conditions of employment for its members." Several theorists place a strong emphasis on trade unions as bargaining agents intent on securing greater shares of rights and privileges for their membership. They see unions as not only interested in economic ends but in the regulation of work. According to Sidney and Beatrice Webb, a trade union is a group of employees in a particular sector, whose aim is to negotiate with employers over pay, job security, working hours, etc. using the collective power of the members. They are funded by subscriptions from members, and often offer legal advice and strike pay during disputes when members refuse to work. In general, the union is there to represent the interests of its members, and may


even engage in political activity where legislation affects their members too points out that a trade union or labor union is an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals in key areas such as wages, hours, and working conditions, forming a cartel of labor. The agreements negotiated by the union leaders are binding on the rank and file members and the employer and in some cases on other non- member workers( union).

Marxist analysis provides an alternative tradition sensing in trade unionism potential for the transformation of capitalism. Marx and Engels initially saw 'pure and simple' trade unionism as itself a threat to capitalism. Unions were 'schools of war' which would teach workers that their interests could not be met within capitalism and train them for the struggle to overthrow it. Later Marx and Engels were concerned that unions were "fighting with effects and not with the cause of' these effects, applying palliatives not curing the malady" (Mcllory 1995: 56). They explained their future in terms of the treachery of union leaders and the embourgeoisement of their members.

According to the Webbs, trade union rules have been maintained through three methods: mutual insurance, collective bargaining and legal enactment. They emphasize the centrality of collective bargaining but note that unions attempt to achieve their purposes through mutual insurance as the provision of welfare services and benefits to members (Mcllory 1995: 4). Allan Flanders too saw collective bargaining at the heart of trade unionism. He wrote of collective bargaining as a rule-making process through which unions pursued substantive outcomes and job regulation. Collective bargaining, according to him, provided protection and participation and created rights and obligations in industry. He further elaborated that the essential social purpose of trade unionism was participation in job regulation, a form of industrial democracy (Mcllory 1995: 55).


The immediate objectives and activities of trade unions vary, but in general will include:

• Provision of benefits to members: Early trade unions, like Friendly Societies, often provided a range of benefits to insure members against unemployment, ill health, old age and funeral expenses. In many developed countries, these functions have been assumed by the state; however, the provision of professional training, legal advice and representation for members is still an important benefit of trade union membership.

• Collective bargaining: Where trade unions are able to operate openly and are recognized by employers, they may negotiate with employers over wages and working conditions.

• Industrial action: Trade unions may enforce strikes or resistance to lockouts in furtherance of particular goals.

• Political activity: Trade unions may promote legislation favorable to the interests of their members or workers as a whole. To this end they may pursue campaigns, undertake lobbying, or financially support individual candidates or parties (such as the Labour Party in Britain) for public office ("Trade Union" accessed @

Unions are also delineated by the service model and the organizing model. The service model union focuses more on maintaining worker rights, providing services, and resolving disputes. Alternately, the organizing model typically involves full-time union organizers who work by building up confidence, strong networks and leaders within the workforce and confrontational campaigns involving large numbers of union members. Many unions are a blend of these two philosophies, and the definitions of the models themselves are still debated. Although their political structure and autonomy vary widely, union leaderships are usually formed through democratic elections. Companies that employ workers with a union generally operate on one of several models:


• A closed shop (US) employs only people who are already union members.

• A union shop (US) or a closed shop (UK) employs non-union workers as well, but sets a time limit within which new employees must join a union.

• An agency shop requires non-union workers to pay a fee to the union for its services in negotiating their contract. This is sometimes called the Rand formula. In certain situations involving state public employees in the United States, such as California, 'fair share laws' make it easy to require these sorts of payments.

• An open shop does not discriminate based on union membership in employing or keeping workers. Where a union is active, the open shop allows workers to be employed who do not contribute to a union or the collective bargaining process

.("Trade Union" accessed @

The objective of trade unions may relate to many aspects, ranging from wages, conditions of employment, status of the worker as a citizen of industry and society, and worker's contribution to society as a political, social, economical and legal entity. The theories and definitions (whether theoretical or legal) of trade unions so far discussed point to the fact the effects of trade unionism upon the conditions of labor, and upon industrial organization and progress, are governed by the technical variety of processes. Such effects vary from industry to industry and from trade to trade, and the economic moral varies with them.

2.3 The history of trade unions

The traces of trade unions' existence could be drawn from the eighteenth century; the rapid expansion of industrial society was to draw women, children, rural workers, and immigrants to the work force in larger numbers and in new roles. This pool of unskilled and semi-skilled labour spontaneously organized in fits and starts throughout its beginnings, and would later be an important arena for the development of trade unions. John R. Commons and Stanly Penman link the origin of the labor movement to the emergence of a separate labor class during the period of merchant capitalism where employers began to compete with each other. In their view trade unions function as a means of protecting workers from such competition. This view 12

was similar to that of Marx and Webbs (Reynolds L.G., Masters S. H. & Moser C. H. 1988, 55).

Trade unions have sometimes been seen as successors to the guilds of medieval Europe, though the relationship between the two is disputed. Medieval guilds existed to protect and enhance their members' livelihoods through controlling the instructional capital of artisanship and the progression of members from apprentice to craftsman, journeyman, and eventually to master and grandmaster of their craft. A labor union might include workers from only one trade or craft, or might combine several or all the workers in one company or industry. The historian R.A. Leeson, in United We Stand (1971), states: "Two conflicting views of the trade-union movement strove for ascendancy in the nineteenth century: one the defensive-restrictive guild-craft tradition passed down through journeymen's clubs and friendly societies,...the other the aggressive-expansionist drive to unite all 'labouring men and women' for a 'different order of things" . Recent historical research by Bob James in Craft, Trade or Mystery (2001) puts forward the view that trade unions are part of a broader movement of benefit societies, which includes medieval guilds, freemasons, odd fellows, friendly societies, and other fraternal organizations (

The 18th century economist Adam Smith noted the imbalance in the rights of workers with regard to owners (or "masters"). In The Wealth of Nations, he states: We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate... When workers combine, masters... never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combinations of servants, labourers, and journeymen.


As Smith notes, unions were illegal for many years in most countries (and Smith argued that schemes to fix wages or prices, by employees or employers, should be). There were severe penalties for attempting to organize unions, up to and including execution. Despite this, unions were formed and began to acquire political power, eventually resulting in a body of labor law that not only legalized organizing efforts, but codified the relationship between employers and those employees organized into unions.

Webbs in Mcllory (1995), points out that the method of legal enactment of rights and privileges emerged through the use of political pressure to achieve statutory support. While some unions pride themselves on rejecting political action, many in the past and today give priority to political action. He points out that they are no less trade unions because of that. For Flanders (1970) political activity was ancillary. Unions were not just economic organizations but neither were they political parties. Too specific or all pervasive political commitment could endanger industrial unity. Unions acting as a sword of justice' were distinctive pressure groups and not just another vested interest. They had played a role in wider social change and would continue to do so (Mcllroy l995: 55). Thus we see that some such as Perlman (1928) see the political dimension as limited. Others like Flanders see it as important but still secondary, although for Flanders the zenith of job regulation was participation in incomes policy. All see unions affecting social change but in a gradual fashion (Mcllroy, 1995, 56).

The National Labor Union was the first national union in the United States. It was created in 1866 and included many types of workers. This union did not accomplish any significant gains. After this union crumbled, the Knights of Labor became the leading countrywide union in the 1860s. This union did not include Chinese, and partially included blacks and women. The Knights of Labor was founded in the United States in 1869. Eventually over 700,000 workers joined the Knights. They opposed child labor and demanded the eight-hour day. They hoped their union would give workers "a proper share of the wealth they create" more free time, and generally


more benefits of society. They also tried to set up companies owned by the workers themselves. Although the Knights were against strikes, some radical members went on strike anyway when the railroads cut wages in 1884. After they won the fight, membership in the Knights boomed to 700,000, but then, at the time of the Haymarket Massacre, a fearful public opinion grouped them with anarchists and Communists, and membership rapidly declined. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was founded by Samuel Gompers. By 1904, AFL-affiliated unions had a membership of over 1.4 million nationwide. Under Gompers's leadership, the AFL advocated an approach known as "business" or "pure and simple" unionism, which emphasized collective bargaining to reach its goals. Demands were centered around improvements to the immediate work environment, like better wages, hours and working conditions (

In France, Germany, and other European countries, socialist parties and democrats played a prominent role in forming and building up trade unions, especially from the 1870s onwards. This stood in contrast to the British experience, where moderate New Model Unions dominated the union movement from the mid-nineteenth century and where trade unionism was stronger than the political labor movement until the formation and growth of the Labor Party in the early years of the twentieth century (

In Sri Lanka, the history of state intervention in industrial relations through law commences from about 1830 with the growth of coffee and tea plantations industries. Prior to that, the master and servant relationship was regulated largely by custom. The necessity for cheap unskilled labor for the successful operation of plantations, combined with a labor crisis in 1846, led to an Ordinance in that year being introduced to promote state-sponsored immigration of labor from South India, resulting in the formation of the country's first regimented labor force ( Country Report on the Trade Union Situation in Sri Lanka, August, 2002, No.4).


The first recorded attempt at forming an organization for the benefit of employees in Sri Lanka was made in 1883. This organization was launched by the clerks in government service who felt the need for some scheme to assist them during sickness, financial difficulties and on retirement. The organization was called the Public Services Mutual Provident Association. Similar associations were established in the private sector as well. For example, the Mercantile Mutual Provident Association was formed in 1884. These associations became very popular in that many employees joined their membership, particularly since the depression in the coffee industry experienced in the year 1880 had far reaching ramifications for employees, mainly clerks in the government and private sector. The Tenth Annual Report of the Public Service Mutual Association stated that its membership increased from 203 in 1883 to 624 in 1893. The formation of these associations whose aim was to "promote thrift and give redress to members," can be regarded as the first attempt at organizing employees to seek their own betterment, and in this sense a forerunner to the trade union movement. The first trade union in its present context arose consequent to a strike, which can also be considered as the first organized strike in Sri Lanka. This was spearheaded by Colombo Printers in September 1893.

One of the earliest attempts to research this phenomenon was by K.M. Sudu Banda when he studied trade unionism in the plantation sector that emerged in an inhospitable society for the purpose of maintaining the status of the Indian immigrant labor who belonged to one ethnic group by and large subject to common constraints in political, social, economic and legal aspects (Sudu Banda 1996). The primary objective of this study was to investigate and analyze the nature of trade union behavior in the plantation sector of Sri Lanka in a changing environment. These plantation workers were protected by a number of legislative measures enacted exclusively for them by the British. The trade unions operating within the plantation sector for securing the interests of their membership in particular, and this distinct ethnic group of Indian origin in general, have evolved through a period of over sixty years experiencing the changes taken place within the legislative framework of the country as a whole.


2.4 Diversity of international trade unions

As labor law varies from country to country, so does the function of trade unions. For example, as shown by an article of Newsletter, in Germany only open shops are legal; that is, all discrimination based on union membership is forbidden. This affects the function and services of the union. In addition, German unions have played a greater role in management decisions through participation in corporate boards and co-determination than have unions in the United States (TUTB Newsletter, June,2004,No.24:p15). In Britain, a series of laws introduced during the I980s by Margaret Thatcher's government restricted closed and union shops. All agreements requiring a worker to join a union are now illegal. In the United States, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 outlawed the closed shop, but permitted the union shop unless the state government chose to prohibit it. In addition, unions' relations with political parties vary. In many countries trade unions are tightly bonded, or even share leadership, with a political party intended to represent the interests of working people. Typically this is a left-wing, socialist, or social democratic party, but many exceptions exist. In the United States, by contrast, although it is historically aligned with the Democratic Party, the labor movement is by no means monolithic on that point. In Britain the labor movement's relationship with the Labor Party is fraying as party leadership embarks on privatization plans at odds with what unions see as the worker's interests. In Sri Lanka too trade unions became ingrained into the social structure and were subject to politicization after the 1980s. A new trade union culture emerged that also penetrated the university administration and the functioning of the university through unions within these institutions.

In Western Europe, professional associations often carry out the functions of a trade union. In these cases, they may be negotiating for white-collar workers, such as physicians, engineers or teachers. Typically such trade unions refrain from politics or pursue a more liberal politics than their blue-collar counterparts. In Germany, the relation between individual employees and employers is considered to be asymmetrical. In consequence, many working conditions are not negotiable due to a strong legal protection of individuals. However, the German flavor or works 17

legislation has as its main objective to create a balance of power between employees organized in unions and employers organized in employers' associations. This allows much wider legal boundaries for collective bargaining compared to the narrow boundaries for individual negotiations. As a condition to obtain the legal status of a trade union, employee associations need to prove that their leverage is strong enough to serve as a counterforce in negotiations with employers. If such an employees' association is competing against another union, its leverage may be questioned by unions and then evaluated in a court trial ( union )

The structure of employment laws also affects trade unions' roles and how they carry out their business. In many western European countries, wages and benefits are largely set by governmental action. The United States takes a more laissez-faire approach, setting some minimum standards but leaving most workers' wages and benefits to collective bargaining and market forces. Historically, the Republic of Korea has regulated collective bargaining by requiring employers to participate, but collective bargaining has been legal only if held in sessions before the Lunar New Year. In the Soviet Union and China, unions have typically been de facto government agencies devoted to smooth and efficient operation of government enterprises ( ) .

2.5 Unions and involvement in broader politics

Unions may also engage in broader political or social struggle. Social unionism encompasses many unions that use their organizational strength to advocate for social policies and legislation favorable to their members or to workers in general. As well, unions in some countries are closely aligned with political parties. Proponents often credit trade unions with leading the labor movement in the early 20th century, which generally sought to end child labor practices, improve worker safety, increase wages for union workers, raise the entire society's standard of living, reduce the hours in a work week, provide public education for children, and bring other benefits to working class families.


There is a multiplicity of trade unions of this nature. These unions which are either politically affiliated or ethnically biased sometimes with interest in both, are now becoming sensitive to the changes taking place in the society. The outcome of discontented behavior of these unions very often than not is seen in industrial conflicts. Such situations need to be investigated and solutions found, because it is only through a contented workforce that profitability could be achieved by means of enhanced productivity. Not only that, in countries like Sri Lanka, where political instability further hampers the already hobbling economy, it is vital that such situations are investigated in order to find solutions that satisfy the workforce. Thus there is a need to recognize the continuous influences exerted by this group of people through trade unions supported by political pressures. They adopt this process for ameliorating their long standing deficiencies accumulated due to ignorance and absence of leadership emerging from the rank and file of the trade union membership. In many instances, they have been led by non-worker trade unionists as is seen in the case of Sri Lanka as well.

When considering the recent history of Sri Lanka, we see that trade unions were at the forefront of the movement for independence prior to 1947. The 1950's saw the collapse of governments due to a wave of strikes. In order to overcome this situation, a strategy was adopted by forming trade unions in different departments and work sites affiliated to different major political parties. The mother union was attached to the political party, while branches were formed in work sites. During this period certain political parties launched strikes against the existing governments through their trade unions. Furthermore, it is obvious that, political parties used these trade unions to conduct strikes against the existing government to further their own political motives.

This tradition of political involvement has persisted to this day, and political parties continue to seek the support of the working population through trade unions and also manipulate unions to achieve political objectives from time to time. These precedents made it easy for political parties to penetrate unions and ultimately dictate terms to unions, thereby making unions a mere organ of the political machinery. This trend has led to unions not being able to produce leaders from within their own ranks


and to the creation of a culture in which the political hierarchy of the party that provides patronage to a particular union appointing its leaders. In fact, non-members who have prepared to assume trade union leadership have invariably been politicians who are able to highlight in parliament the grievances of the workers in narrow political terms, rather than as genuine interests of workers in a more constructive manner within the context of the current developments in the global workers' movement. Despite the political involvement of trade unions in Sri Lanka, strikes for purely political purposes are not frequent and unions have never been able to influence the political process to a large extent. In most unions, characteristics of union democracy are hardly visible and the leadership is naturally being held by an aging set of veterans who are not open to change or ready to accommodate young activists.

After the 1980's, number of trade unions affiliated to political parties increased in the universities as well. It is obvious that trade unions and welfare societies which operate independently in the universities also have leaders connected to political parties. Even the student movement has become highly politicized when compared to other government educational institutions. In other words, university trade unions have now acquired a strong political base. Almost all the trade unions in the universities are controlled by the mother trade unions, which were based on political parties. For example, Sri Lanka Nidahas Swevaka Sangamaya represents the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Eksath Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya represents the United National Party and Inter University services Trade Union was controlled by the People Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna). However, the most independent trade union which is operating at the national level is the Sri Lanka Clerical and Technical Services Trade Union. Thus university had become a testing ground of different political parties. However, as trade union strikes in the universities do not disturb the peace in the society at large, governments are not keen to attend to their demands and solve them. As a result, trade unions have had to launch frequent struggles to get their issues addressed. This has become a major


problem for university employees in receiving redress. This aspect of trade unions will be discussed in the findings of the present study in a subsequent chapter.

2.6 Legal structure and juridical status of labor and trade unions in Sri Lanka

In view of growing labor unrest during the early years of World War II, the expansion of the regimented workforce, and as a result of the state and the private sector turning out to be employment generators, it became necessary for the government to introduce an institutionalized industrial relations framework. This situation led to the introduction of the Industrial Disputes Act in 1950, which is considered to be the vital backbone that governs the industrial relations system of Sri Lanka. Since its inception it has gone through a long process of change and reform to make it what it is today. At present, it addresses issues arising out of industrial disputes, termination of services of employees, collective bargaining, labor arbitration, Labor Tribunals and the functioning of Industrial Courts.

Today the scope of labor laws are broad as any other system of labor law around the world, and encompasses a wide range of areas involving the employer-employee relationship in addition to the focus on social security, wages, terms and conditions of employment, industrial safety, employment of women and children, etc. In Sri Lanka, as in most developing countries, the tendency is for the state to interfere in industrial relations by setting up standards of conduct for both employers and employees. These standards take the form of legislation or pronouncements of special courts or tribunals set up by legislation. The state expresses its policy in both ways. In fact, it would be true to say that the awards or orders of the extra-judicial tribunals, which are binding on the parties to a dispute and which constitute a significant source of industrial law, are by far the most important agency through which the state intervenes in industrial relations in Sri Lanka today. This form of intervention is indirect rather than direct.


However, public sector employees are not covered under the Industrial Disputes Act. Industrial relations issues of public sector workers are governed through a code of rules adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers called the Establishment Code. It is presumed that the exclusion of the public sector workers from the purview of the Industrial Disputes Act is based on the assumption that the State is expected to perform the role of a model employer and it will discharge all its duties towards its employees in a just manner. The functioning of the public sector today creates serious questions about this notion and the Establishment Code is highly inconsistent with international conventions and declarations dealing with the rights of workers. The total exclusion of public sector workers from the process of collective bargaining and restrictions in forming and federating unions among public sector workers are some prominent issues that need to be addressed.

The following is a structural outline of the scope of local labor laws:

1. Terms and conditions of employment

The Shop and Office Employees (Regulation of employment & remuneration) Act

Wages Board Ordinance

2. Social security

Employees provident Fund

Employees Trust Fund

Payment of Gratuity Act

3. Industrial safety

Factories Ordinance

Workmen's Compensation Ordinance

4. Industrial relations

Industrial Disputes Act

Termination of Employment (Special provisions) Act

Trade Union Ordinance

5. Employment of women and children

Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act

Maternity Benefits Ordinance


The Sri Lankan Constitution has provided for the establishment of trade unions and employees of any institution to become members of any trade union as a fundamental right of the workers, as given in Chapter III, Clause 14 (i) C of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. According to the Constitution, any barriers imposed by any institution or organization to form trade unions or to become members could be challenged at the Supreme Court. However, the Constitution is not clear about the rights of private sector workers in this regard. Several trade union rights have been formulated in the Trade Union Act of 1935 and the Workers Declaration of 1995 as well. In addition, trade union rights are included as well under the revised industrial deputes Act V (a) of No 56 in 1999. However, the Workers' Declaration of 1995 does not appear to have been implemented.

In accordance with the present legal status of trade unions within the country, a case can be brought against a registered trade union in its registered name. Therefore, a trade union can declare itself a legal identity through registration. In the same way, according to law, a trade union has a right to maintain any fund including a political fund to be utilized in furthering political objectives.

In order to safeguard the right of workers, the usual methods and strategies followed by trade unions are picketing, working to rule or going on strikes. However, since the provisions granted by the trade union statute to safeguard the rights are inadequate, the revision of the Industrial Disputes Act ACR No.56 of 1999 has been introduced. Through this the following methods have been defined as punishable offences. According to Clause 32 of this Amendment the service user has declared that their any worker should not be:

compelled to join or leave a trade union

dismissed from service on the grounds of membership of a trade union

be given more incentives for inciting to leave a trade union

prevented from forming a trade union

Prevented from supporting or actively participating in a trade union


In addition, if the membership of a trade union exceeds 40% of number of workers, the service user has to mandatorily accept the trade union. The service user will be subject to a fine of Rs. 20, 000/- in case of breaking any one of the above-stated conditions.

The independent unions in Sri Lanka are relatively small and often work in isolation. It is also difficult for them to get on with traditional trade union organizations due to ideological differences. Independent trade unions are also visible in some areas of the private sector, export industries and EPZs, banking sector, teaching and in some areas of the public service. The non-public sector unions represent the private and semi-government-owned business and industrial enterprises. Sri Lanka does not have a national trade union centre as seen in many countries due to this segregation of unions by law and the inherent political identities of the unions. On the other hand, it is common to find several trade unions in one trade or industry and in the same workplace. Many of the local unions have affiliated themselves to GUFs. Most of these unions that have established affiliations with GUFs are direct wings of major political parties. A list of unions and their affiliated GUFs s given as appendix -3.

The growth of trade unions in the fast-growing private sector or the export sector is sluggish and the traditional politically-oriented unions have failed to adopt themselves to the new challenges in these areas. The isolation of the local union movement from the contemporary developments of the global trade union movement also has contributed towards these unions not being able to cope with the emerging challenges. The change in this situation has been brought about through links unions have formed working with GUFs in the last two decades. Their activities have often taken the form of seminars, training workshops and regional conferences. The cooperation between local unions and GUFs focusing on constructive issues of workers rights, campaigns related to workers occupational concerns, action-oriented programs and activities is very minimal. At present, Sri Lanka is in the midst of a labor reform process apart from the serious lapses in the enforcement of statutes dealing with basic workers rights and ILSs. Unions have failed to bring volatile


issues such as arbitrary, unfair practices and policies to the notice of GUFs and involve them in the campaign against such policies and practices. Similarly GUF-Union cooperation has not expanded to cover areas such as promotion of effective policy dialogues on labor policy or worker rights issues.

Some GUFs and the ICFTU attempted to facilitate unions to raise issues of labor standard violations in view of Sri Lanka's application to the Special Incentive Scheme of the EU's GSP award. In spite of the preliminary effort undertaken by GUFs, the local unions failed to respond to these initiatives. This situation has come about mostly due to the sheer ineffectiveness of unions and their inability to effectively raise concrete issues at global forums and muster the support of GUFs. On the other hand, there was also hardly any attempt in any of the GUF cooperations with local unions to promote a democratic, workers' concern-oriented, transparent and accountable union movement, which in fact is a serious issue pertaining to most of the GUF affiliates in Sri Lanka. In spite of all these failures to ensure the effective participation of GUFs into the local labor cause, affiliate unions have always been a regular non-absent participant of all international conferences, congresses, meetings and forums organized by GUFs. The return trickle-down effect of all these activities towards the improvement of local trade union movement is still unforeseeable.

The affiliates are yet to address key issues that are of workers' interest such as ILSs, elimination of unfair labor practices, lack of interest of the government in enforcing principles of core ILO conventions, etc. Therefore it certainly needs to go beyond the traditional routine training workshops, seminars and focus on key issues that concern workers. More emphasis needs to be put on action-oriented programs, activities and campaigns which can rationalize a positive and concrete outcome.

This is the general legal and structural backdrop within which the unions within the universities came into being and continue to operate.


2.7 Immergence and growth of trade unions in the University of Colombo

Since all trade unions functioning within the university are registered under the Trade Union Statute of 1935, the legal foundation stated above is continuously established. Therefore the legality of the trade unions that function within the university is accepted as of a superior level by the management of universities. The workers track unions developed with the inception of the university system in 1942. These unions were based on different categories of staff in the university system. During the period of 1988-1989, the workers trade unions on the University of Colombo took on a new political front and a new fighting tradition emerged due to the prevailing political environment. Such a tradition emerged within the Ceylon Transport Board unions, the plantation sector unions and the unions of the University of Colombo. It is in the context of the politicization of trade unions discussed above, that nearly 34 trade unions which operated in the universities formed the Inter University Trade Union Movement in the later 80s. The University of Colombo acted as the centre of this movement.

The JVP gave leadership to this movement unofficially and were able to strengthen the movement within the university. The convener of the Inter-University Students Union, H. P. Herath (later assassinated), merged together different trade unions and brought them under the authority of the Inter-University Trade Union. Trade union struggles became more successful after this was established.

At present, there are 18 service trade unions including 3 politically backed trade unions and one joint power organization that were founded. Those with political support are:

Sri Lanka Freedom Workers Union supported by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party

United Workers Union supported by United National Party


The Inter University Services Trade Union supported by the People Liberation Front

These were branches of the mother organizations. Therefore, while fighting for workers' rights, they also had to fulfill the political agenda of the mother organizations which caused difficulties for them. However, this very factor supported them due to the merging of trade unions in the late eighties when they won demands successfully as the political powers and influence supported the issues brought up by them. B. C. Perera, who was in the salary committee, protested regarding salary anomalies of all workers and all rallied together as the university trade unions integration committee to present their requests and win their demands. All the political trade unions, the JVP and the Inter-University Students Union supported this protest. The large scale strike organized during 1988-1989 in the University of Colombo is a result of this union. This strike was held for 38 continuous days and was not conducted only to gain their own rights, but for broader political issues as well as for the benefit of the students. Due to JVP influence, there was a degree of anti-government sentiment and ideology expressed through the strike. After the strike, the union won 27 demands including a salary increment of SLR 610. This action changed the nature of trade union conflict. It brought together different groups and elements of the university across the hierarchical divide and also lobbied for diverse types of changes. The MC privileges and a new salary scale were introduced through this effort. However, due to the political atmosphere of the time, trade unions developed very little. The clerical and technical services trade unions become more powerful at a later point.

Later, due to the weakening of the JVP, the JSS, the removal of the Integration Committee and the leadership of the old trade unions taking over the political needs of the Alliance Government, the activity of the university trade unions deteriorated. Due to the salary increment of 1989, which proposed and implemented a blanket increase of a percentage, an anomaly was created in the salary structure among the different salary grades. Because of this anomaly, the Inter-University Trade Union


Movement organized several strikes in 1990, 1994, 1996, 2000 and also in 2004. Although these strikes hampered academic work in the university, they had a positive impact on the whole university system as well. However, it took a great deal of time to achieve results of this trade union action and bring about a new salary scheme including a salary increment of LKR 3500 which took place in 2006. The new salary scheme was followed by the introduction of the finger print machine instead of the attendance register only in the University of Colombo. This gave rise to a strike that was confined to the University of Colombo; a factor not seen in previous instances where the inter-university movement drew in members of all university trade unions.


Chapter 3

Understanding Bureaucracy and Organizational Behavior

An understanding of bureaucracy in its ideal sense is essential to understand the changed nature of the bureaucracy that operates within Sri Lanka today. This changed bureaucracy is the entity that has the most direct contact with trade unions and the workers they represent. It will become apparent at a latter point that trade union actions are, to a great extent, shaped by the nature of the existent bureaucracy and the dilemmas created due to this reality. The chapter will also discuss some salient theories on organizational behavior that have a bearing on a study of the organizing and functioning of trade unions within the university system.

3.1 What is bureaucracy?

Max Weber, who first attempted a sociological analysis of bureaucracy, reveals that the following characteristics exist in bureaucracies. They have: (l) fixed areas of official jurisdiction governed by laws and regulations; (2) offices organized on the basis of a clear hierarchy of authority; (3) administration based on written document and conducted according to procedures for which special training is required; (4) personally free officials appointed on the basis of technical qualifications; (5) officials who are employed on full-time basis and subject to strict discipline. These officials must know the distinction between their private affairs and public affairs. The misappropriation of the officer or that of the means of administration is disapproved and forbidden. The official of the bureaucracy has a career in which promotion is governed by seniority or merit and they are paid a fixed salary, according to their ranks and also a pension. The officials maintain contact and communications among themselves in a particular way and orders always proceed through proper channels. A bureaucracy normally has an office of its own and all the documents pertaining to its business are maintained in files (Rao 1955: 339).


Thus, a bureaucracy is an administrative system built - at least in principle - on the appointment to administrative posts of specialists in such work. It is organized in ways meant to ensure the impartial devotion of their expertise to the organization and management of administrative affairs. The office-holder's loyalty to the bureaucracy is ensured, ideally, by that person's exclusive dependence or livelihood upon the employing organization. Thus the 'ideal' bureaucracy, i.e. in the ideal case when all these criteria are satisfied, involves the concentration of administrative expertise within the structure. The organization of relations and distribution of work within the structure optimize the way expertise is focused upon administrative problems in as objective and dispassionate a way as (humanly) possible. For this reason, administrative decision-making in the bureaucracy (whatever its actual shortcomings) should ideally be superior, since charismatic and traditional administrations are, in the end, at the arbitrary mercy of the leader's whim. If anything, with bureaucracy, the situation is reversed: the political leader is at the mercy of the administration. The leader may have the formal political control over the bureaucracy, but may not have the administrative competence to keep it under control. Weber certainly thought that there was a need for strong, determined and visionary leaders in a democratic society who could counter the strength of the bureaucracy. Such leaders must keep an eye on the main issues rather than being persuaded into looking at all decisions (including the important ones) as if they were mere matters of administrative technicality (Curt and Sharrock 1990: 51-52).

The organizational structure within the university system is one that possesses many features of a bureaucracy albeit in a transformed, adapted, evolved manner. While certain basic features remain true to those described above in practice as well as on paper, the politicization of all aspects of society has invariably left its mark on the bureaucracy that governs universities of the country just as it has affected all other constituent bureaucracies that make up the state sector. While much thinking has been done and put into practice in other contexts on improving efficiency of bureaucracies influenced both by internal pressures as well as external role modeling by the private sector, Sri Lankan bureaucracies are yet to be affected by such change.


However, it is useful to bring in the thinking behind mechanisms utilized to improve organizational performance in the private sector as a means of identifying alternate options that are available to a structure such as the university that operates within a bureaucracy that is imbued with contextual realities that undermine its functional efficiency.

3.2 Organizational behavior

The modern industrialized, urbanized societies of the world consist of a large number of organizations, both formal and informal. Many thinkers have expounded theories on the nature and function of organizations; I will limit this discussion to some basic ideas that are relevant to a study of this nature.

Due to the complexity in the growth of societies, the number and size of the formal organizations have increased. They are found in the economic, political, educational, industrial other fields and are characterized by a specific function. A division of labor and a hierarchy of authority are seen in these entities where a proper arrangement of duties and roles are also established. Carefully planned and systematically worked out organizations are banks, colleges, universities, factories, corporations, governments, political parties, trade unions, courts, libraries, police etc (Rao 1955: 337).

Society is never made up of only the formal organizations for no society can maintain its existence based solely on them. Informal relations are bound to develop among the members even of formal organizations and also outside of formal organizations. These informal relations provide the basis for the formation of informal organizations. These consist of a small group the members of which are tied to one another as persons. The group is characterized by informal and face-to-face relations, mutual aid, co-operation and companionship. The members of informal organizations work together not in their official capacities, but as persons. They share their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows (Rao, 1955: 341).


Douglas McGregor was one of the first writers to call attention to the idea that management philosophy controls practice and to the realization that human beings are assets within an organization. Management's human resource policies, decision-making styles, operating practices, and even organizational designs flow from key assumptions about human behavior. He pointed out that these assumptions may be implicit rather than explicit, but they can be inferred from observing the kinds of actions that managers take. Theory X is a traditional set of assumptions about people. As shown in Figure 1 it assumes that most people dislike work and will try to avoid it. There will always be important differences among people, so a few individuals will fit the assumptions of the Theory X model. Nearly all employees, however, have some potential for growth in their capabilities and demonstrated performance. Therefore, McGregor argued, management needed to change to a new set of assumptions about people based on emerging behavioral science research. These new assumptions had a powerful impact on subsequent managerial actions (Newstrom & Davis 1997: 30).


Figure 1. X,Y Theory

Theory X

Theory Y

The typical person dislikes work and will avoid it if possible.

Work is as natural as play or rest.

People are not inherently lazy. They have become that way as a result of experience.

The typical person lacks responsibility; has little ambition and seeks security above all.

Most people must be coerced, controlled and threatened with punishment to get them to work.

People will exercise self direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which they are committed.