The goal of the Essential Public Services Act (EPSA) proclamation is to end an indefinite strike by over 65,000 health professionals, including nurses, paramedics, public health inspectors, medical laboratory techs, and pharmacists.
The president of Sri Lanka has outlawed strikes in the health and energy sectors in response to trade union action that has crippled state-run institutions. The prohibition comes as a result of trade union activity demanding better compensation and working conditions in the healthcare industry.
In 2022, Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse issued an extraordinary gazette designating health and power supply to be essential services and prohibiting strikes in these industries.
The president’s statement came after nurses disregarded a court injunction on their participation in the national health workers’ strike.
The Colombo District Court issued an injunction requiring Government Nursing Officers Association (GNOA) leader Saman Rathnapriya to “halt” the union’s involvement immediately. Thousands of nurses, however, ignored the order and continued their strike alongside their colleagues in various regions of the nation.
Photo: Failed discussions held between the health sector unions and the Health Minister have caused the strike to continue on Feb 9, 2022. https://www.newscutter.lk/health/health-workers-strike-to-continue-08022022-23257/
Doctors in Sri Lanka have warned that a large number of people may die as the country’s healthcare system teeters on the brink of collapse due to debilitating power outages and a lack of life-saving pharmaceuticals.
Officials and health workers say drugs to treat heart attacks and tubes to assist new-born new-borns breathe are in limited supply across the country, while blackouts force medics in rural Sri Lanka to suture wounds and treat snakebites in the dark.
Sri Lanka, a 22-million-person island nation, is experiencing its greatest financial crisis in decades. An economy ravaged by the COVID-19 epidemic has been driven to the verge of collapse, thanks in part to the Rajapaksa administration’s use of the country’s foreign reserves to pay off debts.
Frontline doctors have been told by the government that they can’t speak openly to the media about the situation, with only union representatives and hospital directors authorised to do so.
In a statement Sri Lanka’s government initially denied medicines were running out, even as doctors reported problems.
A day later the Department of Government Information issued a correction, admitting there is a shortage of some drugs and equipment.
|Prime actors: The Sri Lankan Government, Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapakse||Intent: suggests aspersive intent||The unions are demanding better promotional prospects, restructuring of their pay scales and higher allowances. The government has refused, saying the current economic situation does not allow it to increase the salaries budget. The act was used to suppress the democratic rights of health and power workers.Truthfulness:The content was amended to violate fundamental freedoms.Narrative: It is aligned with the disinformation narrative in the sense that it goes against human rights standard.||Target audience: Sri-Lankan health and power workersPlatforms: injunction imposed by the judiciary.||Human rights:Right to strike, right to work, freedom of association freedom of expression, unlawful injunction.|
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
It was Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has issued a special gazette banning strikes by employees related to essential services following threats by trade unions that they would launch a protest against an energy deal with a US company. The deal would create a monopoly in the hands of a foreign ownership and thereby endanger Sri Lanka’s national security.
Behaviour: The act was used to deny the workers the right to strike for reasons of wages. It also was used to deny the workers freedom of expression regarding the dire state of the country’s healthcare and economic resources.
Content: The act was declared with the objective of suppressing freedom of expression. Since the outset of health workers’ strike and protests last year, the Federation of Health Professionals (FHP) and its respective unions have peddled the political fantasy that Colombo can be pressured into granting workers’ demands. These claims are false to the core and designed to disarm and politically trap workers in the face of the government’s escalating attacks.
Degree: The content was targeted against healthcare and power workers.
Effect: The content violated right to strike, right to work, freedom of association freedom of expression, unlawful injunction.
The Case has been identified as influence operation since it was a coordinated efforts on part of Sri Lankan government to influence the workers using rights curbing instruments in support of the objectives of US gaining significant control over the country’s economy.
Rajapakse’s recent proclamation is intended to repress workers justifiable demand for adequate salaries and working conditions in the midst of the country’s worsening economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak. It was an attempt to prevent the workers from disseminating the truth of the healthcare sector to the public. Health workers have denounced Rajapakse’s repressive anti-strike laws and emphasized on the dangerous conditions in their hospitals.
A doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to Aljazeera on 11 April 2022, as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said his hospital does not have antibiotics and will soon run out of gauze. In the midst of such crisis, the government has enacted the Essential Public Services Act (EPSA) to violate the fundamental rights of the workers.