Plantations in diehard wage battle

Friday, 7 October 2016 00:24 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • All stakeholders to hold crucial meeting today
  • Govt. says Rs. 730 per day compromise reached, but claim disputed by unions and companies 
  • Plantations say “simply impossible” to increase wages given low international tea prices  


By the Daily FT News Desk 

Discord continued between estate workers and plantation owners yesterday despite the Government brokering a compromise wage of Rs. 730 per day, with Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) insisting any salary hike remains unfeasible given low international tea prices, prompting a top level meeting between all stakeholders today.  

For over a week hundreds of estate workers have been sporadically striking in plantations demanding their current daily wage of Rs. 620 be increased to Rs. 1,000. 

The protests erupted after a prolonged stalemate between unions and plantation owners that began last year over negotiating a production-based salary system. It is customary for Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) to renegotiate salaries with unions every two years and the Employers Federation conducts discussions on behalf of the plantation owners.   

Labour and Trade Union Relations Minister John Seneviratne on Thursday announced the Government-aligned trade union had accepted a Rs. 730 wage increase and a new collective salary agreement would be signed by 14 October but the statement was immediately denied by the larger unions and RPC representatives.     

“The estate workers demanded a wages increment of Rs. 1,000, but the Employers’ Federation is not in a position to provide it. Therefore they have agreed to give only Rs. 730,” Seneviratne told reporters following several rounds of discussions this week. 

During those meetings the plantation companies had offered a compromise of four days’ work at a pay of Rs. 730 and the remaining two days’ salary to be decided based on the weight of the plucked leaves. However, unions had rejected the offer and demanded Rs. 730 for all six days of work.   

The trade union leaders however claimed that they are yet to agree on a final wage formula, Ceylon Workers Congress Parliamentarian Muthu Sivalingam told Daily FT. 

“The payment for the next two days was to be calculated based on productivity, with the basic wage being Rs. 500. We could not agree on this. We are to have another meeting with the Employers Federation and the Ministers on Friday,” Sivalingam said. 

Given that the average price of a kilo of tea is sold at Rs. 420, companies would not be able to pay the Rs. 730 compromise, insisted a senior member of the Planters Association, confirming that a meeting between plantation company representatives, unions, Plantation Minister Navin Dissanayake and Seneviratne would be held on Friday. 

“We simply do not have the capacity. This is not a case of companies having the money and refusing to pay. We cannot sign an agreement we know we cannot honour. When tea prices are so low it is simply impossible to meet this expense. We might be able to pay one month but after that we would have to put up our shutters,” he said in response to an inquiry from the Daily FT.