Sri Lankan Healthcare Workers Continue to Strike Despite Court Order and Government Ban 

Sri Lankan Healthcare Workers Continue to Strike Despite Court Order and Government Ban 
Photo: The Moose/Flickr, 2006.


Judit Kolbe 

Sri Lanka and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence 

Since Monday, February 7, 2022, Sri Lankan healthcare workers and unions have been on an ongoing strike, demanding better and adequate pay, including the elimination of existing salary disparities (Jayasinghe, C., 2022). The island-wide strike is carried out by thousands of workers belonging to 16 different groups of health professionals, “including medical laboratory scientists, pharmacists, radiologists, cardiologists, public health inspectors, family health officers and pharmacists” (Jayasinghe, C., 2022). The strike has “crippled state-run hospitals” and resulted in only the emergency services functioning at state hospitals (Aljazeera, 2022). 

On Thursday, February 10, the Attorney General filed an action against the Government Nursing Officers’ Association, citing inconvenience to the public (Aljazeera, 2022). Furthermore, the Colombo District Court issued two enjoining orders, which are valid until February 24, 2022. The court orders instructed the health workers to suspend the strike for the time being, as a hearing of a petition against their action is pending (Aljazeera, 2022; Jayasinghe, C., 2022). 

Yet, health workers and unions ignored the court orders and continued their strike (Jayasinghe, C., 2022). According to Saman Rathnapriya, the convener of the association, they learned about the court orders through the media and have not been directly contacted. He furthermore asserts that “striking is a statutory right of ours” (Jayasinghe, C., 2022). Meanwhile, the convenor of the Federation for Health Professionals, Ravi Kumudesh, expressed the association’s intent to take legal actions against the Secretary to the Ministry of Health, suing the latter for “the public inconvenience caused by allowing a strike to be prevented” (Jayasinghe, C., 2022).

On Saturday, February 12, 2022, Sri Lanka’s President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, invoked a 1979 law prohibiting halts in the health and electricity sectors, declaring all related work “essential public services” (Aljazeera, 2022). In case of a violation of this law, the court can order a prison sentence up to five years and confiscation of the assets of those refusing work (Aljazeera, 2022).

Sources and further reading:

Aljazeera (2022, February 12). Sri Lanka bans strikes by healthcare workers amid hospital crisis. Aljazeera.

Jayasinghe, C. (2022, February 11). Health workers in Sri Lanka continue strike despite court order. Economy Next.