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Trade union action causes container backlog


(Commonwealth) _ The customs unions, after engaging in discussions with Finance Ministry officials, decided to suspend their union action on Tuesday night, with operations resuming to clear containers at the Colombo Port on Wednesday. The trade union action had led to approximately 5,000 containers being stalled at the port as of March 20th. Seevali Arukgoda, Deputy Superintendent of Customs, affirmed their commitment to expeditiously clearing the backlog of containers. Measures such as extending working hours and deploying additional officials were being implemented to facilitate this process.

The dispute arose when customs unions withdrew from overtime duty last Friday, prompted by the government’s decision to assume control of a fund previously managed by the Director General of Customs. This fund was utilized to reward officials involved in detecting illegal goods. Geethanjana Madapatha, Vice President of the Sri Lanka Customs Officers’ Association, emphasized that their union action would resume on March 31st if the government failed to address their concerns satisfactorily.

The suspension of union action marks a reprieve in the ongoing dispute between customs unions and the government. However, underlying tensions persist, stemming from the government’s decision regarding the management of the reward fund. The resumption of container clearance operations at the Colombo Port is not just a routine administrative action; rather, it represents a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to mitigate the logistical challenges that arose due to the trade union action. With thousands of containers piled up and awaiting processing, the prompt resolution of this impasse is paramount to prevent further disruptions to the flow of trade and commerce, both domestically and internationally.

As customs officials strive to tackle the backlog head-on, they are mobilizing all available resources to expedite the clearance process. This includes implementing measures such as extending working hours and deploying additional staff to handle the increased workload efficiently. Such decisive actions underscore the gravity of the situation and highlight the commitment of authorities to swiftly address the backlog and restore normalcy to port operations.

The decision to extend working hours reflects a recognition of the urgent need to accelerate the pace of container clearance. By maximizing operational hours, customs officials aim to significantly reduce the backlog and alleviate the strain on port facilities and logistics networks. Simultaneously, the deployment of extra personnel demonstrates a proactive approach to overcoming logistical challenges, ensuring that the clearance process proceeds smoothly and expeditiously.

Furthermore, the concerted efforts to clear the backlog signify a collective commitment to safeguarding the integrity and efficiency of the port operations. Recognizing the pivotal role of the Colombo Port in facilitating trade and commerce, stakeholders are working collaboratively to address the challenges posed by the trade union action and prevent any further disruptions to supply chains and business operations. Nevertheless, the specter of renewed union action looms, casting uncertainty over the sustainability of the current truce. The March 31st deadline set by customs unions serves as a reminder of the unresolved grievances that continue to simmer beneath the surface.

At its core, the dispute reflects broader issues surrounding governance, transparency, and labor relations within the customs administration. The government’s decision to assume control of the reward fund has ignited concerns regarding autonomy and accountability within the customs service. In the interim, stakeholders across sectors impacted by the customs dispute will be closely monitoring developments, hopeful for a swift and amicable resolution. The ability to overcome this impasse will be instrumental in safeguarding Sri Lanka’s position as a vital hub of regional trade and commerce.



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