Electricity cuts hit Sri Lanka as key union goes on strike

About 900 of approximately 1,100 engineers of the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board are on strike, stalling operations.

A Sri Lankan girl uses a kerosine oil lamp to attend online lessons during a power cut in Colombo
A Sri Lankan girl uses a kerosene oil lamp to attend online lessons during a power cut in Colombo [File: Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

Swaths of Sri Lanka have been hit by electricity cuts after a power sector union went on strike in protest against new government regulations, compounding hardships as the country tackles its worst economic crisis in decades.

About 900 out of approximately 1,100 engineers of the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Sri Lanka’s main power company, went on strike at midnight on Thursday, stalling operations at eight hydropower plants that generate about 1,000 MW of electricity.

The CEB Engineers’ Union is opposed to government plans to amend legislation governing the country’s power sector, which include removing restrictions on competitive bidding for renewable power projects.

Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka’s power minister, said he was open to making changes to the legislation, which is due to be presented to parliament, adding that consumers have the right to a cheap, uninterrupted electricity supply.

“If the existing CEB act does not need amendments and has the capability to implement renewable energy projects without delay, why did the CEB deprive many who had requested to do so for years?” Wijesekera said in a tweet.

In a bid to stop the CEB Engineers’ Union from striking, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a gazette notification late on Wednesday declaring electricity supply an essential service.

The legal directive makes it mandatory for engineers to report to work.

“President Rajapaksa called the union president late last night and made an appeal not to let the entire grid collapse. So we are working to ensure hospitals and other essential services have power,” the union’s joint secretary Eranga Kudahewa told Reuters news agency.

“But the strike will continue,” he said.

The government, pushing renewable energy as a potential solution for the country’s power woes, has underlined the need for the amendments to allow for quicker approval and implementation of projects.

Janaka Ratnayake, chairman of the power regulator Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka, said regions supplied by hydropower had seen power outages, including parts of the commercial capital, Colombo.

“We are working to restore services and will talk with the unions to reduce public inconvenience,” Ratnayake told Reuters.

Sri Lanka faced long power outages earlier this year after it was unable to import the fuel needed to generate electricity, though the situation has improved as monsoon rains have bolstered hydropower generation.

Source: Reuters