Sri Lanka customs officers call off strike that stranded containers

Sri Lankan customs officers have called off a strike that had resulted in 6,000 containers stranded at the country’s main port, as well as putting pressure on food prices. The strike was called off on Tuesday February 5th after the government agreed to reinstate a sacked official. The strike by thousands of customs workers began a week ago in protest at the sacking of Director General PSM Charles, who the authorities had blamed for a drop in customs revenue last year.

About 1,000 of the stranded containers held perishables such as onions and potatoes. The strike has cost the government nearly SRP20bn ($113m) in lost revenue, finance ministry officials claimed.

Nearly 500 food importers had closed operations in Colombo’s main market and demanded a faster processing of containers. The governmental action in sacking Charles was apparently because customs revenue fell by the equivalent of $820m in 2018, missing its target by 13%. Unions said that Charles was a scapegoat for a political crisis that was triggered last October when President Maithripala Sirisena removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and dissolved parliament, leading to a drop in trade.