Sri Lanka rail strike hits school exams

A passenger sleeping on a bench at the Fort Railway Station in Colombo during a nationwide railway strike on Dec 12, 2017.
A passenger sleeping on a bench at the Fort Railway Station in Colombo during a nationwide railway strike on Dec 12, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of pupils were left stranded on Tuesday (Dec 12) after railway workers in Sri Lanka refused to abandon a strike during national exams.

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

More than 400,000 students aged around 15 are sitting the examinations, which began Tuesday, and the president's office said the transport difficulties would cause them severe stress.

"Those who go on strike must realise the plight of the students sitting the exams today," one parent told the ITN television network.

"Don't they have children of their own?" But a trade union spokesman said staff would not return to work until their demands for higher pay were met.

And he condemned Parliament for declaring railways an essential service, effectively making the strike illegal.

"We did not want to cause inconvenience to the students, but we are continuing the strike because the government slapped the essential services order against us," Janaka Fernando told AFP.

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