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Last updated: 10 July, 2008 - Published 17:15 GMT
 
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Strikers claim success
 
The government say a strike called by Sri Lanka's government workers for better pay has met with a lukewarm response. But the main trade union leaders claim the strike was 70% successful.

trader in Colombo
Cost of living has been a heavy burden on Srilankans.

BBC Correspondent in Colombo say, the workers' threat to "cripple state services" seems to have had little impact with railways and hospitals functioning normally.

The strike comes at a time when the price of consumer goods has risen by almost 30% in the last year, leading to very high inflation.

The government says to meet the demand, it will have to cut expenditure on the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

One minister said the strike was politically motivated.

Union officials, who represent over a million public sector workers, have called for a pay increase of just under $50 a month.

'No provision'

"[The] cost of living is rising rapidly and the state sector employees are unable to live with their present salaries," Reuters news agency said quoting KD Lalkantha, president of the All Ceylon Trade Union Federation and an opposition MP.

"But the government has failed to grant a better salary increase," he said.

Cabinet minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the unions' demands could not be met without cutting spending on the war with the Tamil Tigers which, the government says, it is winning.

"We don't have provisions in the 2008 budget for such an increase. We would need an extra 50-60 billion rupees ($465-$555 million) for the rest of the year," Reuters quoted Mr Rambukwella as saying.

strikers in Colombo
strikers say they faced government intimidation

"What you can cut is the defence expenditure. But we will not cut defence expenditure at this decisive moment," he said.

Mr Rambukwella said the strike, which has been organised by unions backed by opposition parties, was politically motivated and could even help the separatist rebels.

Government intimidation

The government has said stern action will be taken to prevent illegal demonstrations or violence during the stoppage.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says consumer prices in Colombo have risen by nearly 30% from a year ago, the highest rate of inflation in south and southeast Asia.

K. D. Lalkantha, MP of Janatha Vimukthi Pramuna claimed that 70% of workers had taken part in the strike. He told the BBC, Postal, Health, government printing and transport workers took part in the strike.

Joseph Stalin, the General Secretary of the teacher's union said the government and police intimidation was widely used to prevent teachers from taking trade union action.

 
 
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