Plantation wage discussions in deadlock

Wednesday, 25 May 2011 00:33 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Shezna Shums

The meeting between the representatives of plantation trade unions and companies failed to finalise an agreement regarding the basic wage of estate workers.

Discussions have been ongoing for weeks with no positive outcome for the estate workers’ basic wage. This is the first factor to be discussed, after which other issues will be brought up within the new collective agreement that is to be renewed.

The collective agreement between the trade union representatives and the plantation company representatives ended 31 March and the new agreement is yet to be written and signed.

Secretary General of the Lanka Estate Workers’ Union S. Ramanadan said that at yesterday’s meeting, the proposed basic wage put forward by the plantation company representatives was rejected by the plantation worker trade unions as “it was not substantial enough”.

The combined wage which was rejected includes incentive payments such as attendance and productivity payment, on top of a basic wage.

The plantation worker trade unions are asking for the basic wage of a plantation worker to be given a substantial increase to meet today’s cost of living.

“We could not come to any settlement and hope to have discussions on 25 May or during the course of the week,” he added.

“We hope to settle this matter by the end of this month and are willing to wait a week,” highlighted Ramanadan.

This Collective Agreement, which is renewed every two years, stipulates an estate worker’s salary.  It also stipulates other conditions relating to the estate workers, by which all plantation companies have to abide.

Ramanadan is also President of the Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre, which is one of the parties representing the estate workers currently holding discussions with the Planters’ Association.

Trade union representatives and the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon met last Friday for the third time to discuss the issue, but the meeting ended without a final decision being made due to there being no consensus on the salary issue. The basic wage is the main focal point of the ongoing discussions. “We are keen to settle this matter by the end of this month and if there is no decision reached on the salaries at the next meeting, we will have to decide on the trade union action that we should take,” added Ramanadan.

When asked what trade union action they proposed to take, he said: “We sit at the negotiating table having full hope about the negotiations. If we feel the negotiations are failing and we are unable to get a good response regarding the salary issue, we will decide on trade union action.”

Planters’ Association Chairman Lalith Obeysekera speaking to the Daily FT said that last week after the discussions, both parties took the proposals put forward at the meeting to the respective companies as well as the trade union and the negotiations needed to resume to arrive at an agreement. “We hope to finalise this issue as soon as possible,” stated Obeysekera.

However, he also noted that yesterday’s negotiations had failed and that the wages formula put forward by the Planters Association of Ceylon was rejected by the plantation workers’ trade union representatives.

“We recognise that an increase should be given to the workers and we are also considering the ability of the companies to grant this increase. We are trying to come up with a workable formula for the plantation workers considering the affordability of the companies,” he explained.