Customs strike cripples businesses in Sri Lanka’s capital

February 5, 2019
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Sri Lankan daily wage laborers stand on a road during a shut-down protest by essential commodity importers in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. Food importers and wholesalers have shut their shops in Sri Lanka's capital to demand the government resolve a "work to rule" action by custom officials at the island nation's main seaport. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Food importers and wholesalers shut their shops in Sri Lanka’s capital on Tuesday to demand the government resolve a “work to rule” action by custom officials at the island nation’s main seaport.

The Essential Food Commodities Importers and Traders Association said it is suffering huge losses because of the trade union action by the customs officers, which has slowed the flow of goods through the port.

Hemaka Fernando, a spokesman for the association, said about 1,000 containers with perishable goods are stuck at the Colombo port, waiting to be released.

He said if the dispute drags on, increases in food prices would be passed on to consumers. “Therefore, we urge the government to resolve this matter swiftly,” he said.

Customs officers began the “work to rule” campaign on Jan. 30 to protest the government’s decision to replace the head of the Customs Department with a retired naval officer without customs experience. Their union says the appointment was political and that they will continue their action until the government reinstates the former chief.

There was no immediate comment from the government about the traders’ action. The government previously blamed the removed customs chief for a drop in revenue last year.

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