Sri Lanka unions call off rail strike after backlash

Colombo (AFP) –


Sri Lanka's railway workers called off an island-wide strike Wednesday that disrupted travel for hundreds of thousands of students ahead of crucial school exams, prompting a public backlash.

Railway trade unions said they would return to work after receiving assurances from the government that their concerns over pay would be addressed within two months.

President Maithripala Sirisena had appealed to drivers, station masters and technical staff to end their industrial action to enable students to get to school.

But the workers had refused to abandon their strike, which began on Friday and ran for five days before being cancelled.

Sri Lankans blasted the unions for creating crippling transport problems as 400,000 teenage students prepared to sit their exams.

Many students were left stranded when the tests kicked off on Tuesday and angry commuters have been calling for those responsible to be sacked.

"We did not want to strike at the time of the exams, but the government had forced us," union spokesman Janaka Fernando told AFP.

"We have a promise that our issues will be resolved in two months and no disciplinary action will be taken against the strikers."

Union sources said the strike was called off after the furious backlash from the public.

Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne apologised to commuters and students for the inconvenience.

"We acknowledge there are some salary issues, but it is something that has to be resolved without causing ripple effect in other sectors (of government service)," he said.

Train services are expected to return to normal by Wednesday evening, he added.

Sri Lanka's heavily state-subsidised railways transported 136 million passengers last year.