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Rs. 1000 for a day’s work is only fair! Increase wages of Plantation Workers!

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Rs. 1000 for a day’s work is only fair! Increase wages of Plantation Workers!

UPDATE:

The lack of empathy shown by the Ministers and MPs at the recent debate in parliament  on the wages of estate workers was deeply dissapointing.

We wish to remind these elected representatives that their blatant insensitivity will be remembered by their constituents in the upcoming election.

 

Tens of thousands of women and men who work on the tea estates of Sri Lanka have been on strike demanding a fair wage for their hard labour. While the recent coup in the country and its defeat by pro-democracy forces captured even international attention, little, if anything, is said about the continuing struggle of plantation workers. They are demanding a basic wage of one thousand rupees ($5.50) for a full day of work.

Most of the tea produced in Sri Lanka is exported. Sri Lanka accounts for close to 20% of total global tea exports, making it among the top three exporters in the world. Greater awareness among consumers and intermediary buyers and ethical actions in solidarity with workers will contribute to them getting a fair wage.

Now is a good time to act. A revised Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the worker unions and plantation companies was due in October 2018. The negotiations are deadlocked, with the companies refusing to accede to workers’ demand of 1000 rupees as a basic salary for a full day of work. Companies insist on being able to afford only 600 rupees per day. The last time the negotiations were deadlocked in 2015, it took almost a year and a half and government intervention to resolve the dispute. That too was at the cost of workers losing out on the pay increment during the interim period. The delay also has resulted in a lower daily rate as the basis for rate setting this time around, further disadvantaging the workers.In the face of the companies’ refusal to budge from their position, the tea workers’ unions are asking for the government’s good faith intervention.

The plantation workers are among the most underpaid in the formal sector in Sri Lanka, and are subject to dismal working conditions. Many of the discretionary services and subsistence support provided by companies in the past have been reduced or discontinued. This has adverse and long-lasting consequences for their households and the communities. The estate community which has been the back bone of this key export industry for over 150 years still has the highest poverty rates in the country, with maternal mortality, infant mortality, education attainment, malnutrition rates that are by far the worst when compared with other rural and urban segments of the population. The community’s land and house ownership and access to water and sanitation figures are abysmally low when compared to national averages. Given this context, there widespread public support for Rs.1000/- day as a fair wage for the workers. This demand is also supported with evidence by a recent study (2018) based on international methodology that estimates Rs1,108 to be the ‘living wage’.

The status quo is unsustainable for the women and men who work on the estates. Stretched beyond limits, they are protesting in the thousands across the plantations. There have  also been a number of protests in solidarity with these communities in various parts of the country. Particularly noteworthy are the independent and sustained youth protests. The key demands across all of these protests include:

  • 1000/- per day basic wage, with decent working conditions;
  • Back-dated increments to take effect from the expiry of the previous agreement in October 2018;
  • Government intervention to break the deadlock in collective bargaining and to facilitate a fair settlement;
  • More transparency in the negotiation and agreement including translating and publicizing the full agreement in Tamil and Sinhala;
  • Reviewing the current collective bargaining process and instituting a more transparent and timely process.

- Petition in Tamil here

- Petition in Sinhala here 



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