CEB Workers Get Salary Shock

A 2014 circular which allowed for a 100% increase for CEB engineers was declared null and void by the Courts in April this year.

Kshama Ranawana

Nearly 12,000 employees of the Ceylon Electricity board are up in arms over their salaries being paid out as an allowance based on their net take home pay of March this year.

These employees who come under the United Engineers Service have fallen victim to a legal imbroglio that stems from a 2014 CEB Board decision allowing for the creation of the afore mentioned category and an E Salary Scale.

The decision was challenged in Courts by the Lanka Podu Viduli Sevaka Sangamaya for its arbitrary nature whereby only engineers (about a 1,000 of them) of the CEB were entitled to a 100% salary increase from January 2015.

While the LPVSS objected to the arbitrary nature of the decision at issue, whereby only engineers were allowed the increase, agitation against the circular led to the expansion of the Unified Engineering Service category in 2017 to include other staff, said the LPVSS President Malaka Wickremasinghe.  With the expansion nearly 12,000 staff were included, though not all were entitled to a 100% increment, but varying percentages, he added.

Meanwhile on April 2 of this year, Judge Mahinda Samayawardhena of the Court of Appeal declared null and void, in the case between the LPVSS and the CEB, Circular No. 2014/GM/46/Pers dated 27.11.2014 which allowed for the creation of the “Unified Engineering Service” and the introduction of a special salary scale known as “E Salary Scale” for Engineers and Engineering Assistants employed by the CEB.

With the court order declaring the circular null and void, the CEB sought the advice of the Attorney General on implementing the Courts decision.  The Solicitor General, replying on behalf of the Attorney General, has advised that a general scheme or guidelines be formulated for salary revisions besides the creation of new services in Statutory Corporations in keeping with State policy, Counterpoint learns. The guidelines are to be prepared in the event the judgement is not overruled or set aside, whereby it would become law and set the precedence for similar matters.  It further advises that there is ‘no legal impediment for the Cabinet of Ministers to direct the Minister of Power, Energy and Business Development to follow due process, and rectify the initial errors made as discussed in the judgement, and until such time, authorize the payment of salaries until January 2021.’

Given that the salaries of those in the Unified Engineers Service category have been paid based on the now quashed circular, the CEB, following the AG’s advice has decided to obtain cabinet approval to 1) regularise the  UES and E-Scale from November 27, 2014 by following due process/procedure, 2) authorise the continuation of payment of salaries as introduced in January 2015 to maintain the status-quo and until the judgement can be complied with and 3) to address and rectify if any, anomalies in salaries of any employment category when the next collective agreement is reviewed in 2021.

The situation has created a lot of concern amongst the affected staff, claimed the President of the Engineers Union, Saumya Kumarawadu. “We are being paid only an allowance, it is affecting OT payments, our loan repayments and a host of other issues connected to our monthly salaries’, he said.  Due process has not been followed it seems in issuing the circular in 2014, though the Board insists they have the power to make such decisions, Kumarawadu stated.

Nearly 12,000 staff of the CEB are being paid an interim allowance based on the March net take home pay.
Nearly 12,000 staff of the CEB are being paid an interim allowance based on the March net take home pay.

The messy situation has arisen, Counterpoint learns following a Board meeting on November 26, 2014, where it had initially according to a salaries review committee approved a 30% increment to salaries, a Rs. 1,000 monthly allowance and a 50% increment to the annual bonus.  In the judgment given on the issue, Judge  Samayawardhena notes  “ During the discussion Chairman sought instructions from the Secretary, Ministry of Power and Energy with regard to Engineering Scale issue and in response Secretary, Ministry of Power and Energy advised that this request may be considered positively and requested the Board to consider setting up a Unified Service for Technical, Financial IT and other professional grades and further requested the Vice Chairman to submit a report on this matter based on his committee report dated November 18, 2014, urgently.

Accordingly, an addendum to the committee report was submitted to the Board by the Chairman of the committee Prof. K. K. C. K. Perera, Vice Chairman, before the Board Meeting was adjourned for the day.”

While the approval for this special category has been submitted to the Board before the meeting ended, the judgement also notes that ‘then the Vice Chairman has, in a great hurry, prepared the addendum 1R11 recommending a separate salary scale known as “E Salary Scale” for Engineers and Engineering Assistants “before the Board Meeting was adjourned for the day”! That means, without consulting the other Members of the Committee.”   What’s more, the circular informing about the new category and salary scale had been sent out the day after the Board Meeting.
The CEB, has in light of the court decision and its inability to regularise the salary issue at short notice, decided to pay those staff falling under the Unified Engineers Service an interim allowance of 85% of the March net take home pay, informed sources told Counterpoint.

While the affected staff are now the victims of a contentious Board decision, Rights of Consumers Convenor Kelum Amarasinghe, speaking to the media on June 12, claimed that the cost to the country to meet the increased salary requirements for the engineers alone was nearly Rs. 1 billion a year; this means nearly Rs.6 billion in the past five years.  Charging that the CEB had not yet implemented the

Members of the Rights of Consumers group addressing the media on June 12.
Members of the Rights of Consumers group addressing the media on June 12.

court order given in April this year, he alleged that the huge salaries paid out were an additional burden on the people as the CEB had been dragging its feet on introducing least cost power generation options.  “They purchase emergency power instead of going with the low cost options.’  The groups National Organiser Anurudda Somatunga alleged that the CEB constantly tries to create a power shortage when they could easily introduce solar power to meet the country’s energy needs and instead pay  themselves huge salaries.  “It is time the consumers were made aware of the situation, and we will begin country-wide protests, if this situation goes on” he warned.

While the vast increment in salaries will, no doubt, be a burden on the Treasury, the CEB is now preparing to regularise the November 2014 circular to continue with the payments allowed through that circular.  With President Sirisena boycotting Cabinet meetings over his spat with Parliament regarding the latter’s decision to open the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Easter Sunday attacks to the media it is anyone’s guess when this situation would be resolved.

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