By Shezna Shums
The Ceylon Workers Congress, Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre will meet on 4 April to start their discussions on the renewal of the collective agreement which ended 31 March.
These three unions will be holding discussions with the Employers Federation of Ceylon and Regional Plantation Company officials. The collective agreement which is valid for a period of two years is now up for renewal and is what determines the wage and other conditions affecting all plantation and estate workers.
S. Ramanadan, Secretary General of the Lanka Estate Workers Union, is also the President of the Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre, which represents several other trade unions of the plantation sector.
The collective agreement ended 31 March and one of the main factors to be discussed will be the wages of estate workers.
Ramanadan highlighted that the basic salary of an estate worker is Rs. 285 and added to this is a Rs. 90 attendance incentive and another Rs. 30 productivity incentive, which then adds up to a total day’s pay of Rs. 405.
However, another crucial issue is the high cost of living, which will also be taken into consideration when these discussions are ongoing regarding wages for the estate workers.
“The high cost of living, workers’ experience and their suffering will be brought up at these discussions,” said Ramanadan.
This year the country also recorded a good tea as well as a good rubber crop with both sectors receiving good prices. “We will take these factors into consideration for the negotiations of the new collective agreement,” said Ramanadan.
Furthermore, when an estate worker exceeds the normal required quantity of tea plucked for the day, the extra kilos plucked will be paid at a rate of Rs. 12 per kilo. Negotiations will also include a new rate for a kilo of tea over and above the fixed amount of their daily collection of tea leaves.
When it comes to rubber collections, there is a rate of Rs. 15 per kilo for anything over and above the fixed amount to be collected per day by a plantation worker; negotiations will also include a new rate.
Ramanadan also noted that when it comes to the collection of scrap rubber, negotiations will include a price for this collection as well; currently no amount is paid for the collection of scrap rubber by the plantation workers.
Another issue to be discussed will be work carried out on Sunday; the trade unions want one-and-a-half times the normal day’s pay for work carried out on a Sunday.
The previous agreement had in fact stated that a plantation worker receives one-and-a-half times pay for work carried out on Sunday, but some companies violate this agreement, stressed Ramanadan.
Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Muthu Sivalingam noted that wages would be one of the main issues to be discussed. He also emphasised that this agreement was one of the few agreements renewed every two years, whereas other agreements are generally renewed after five years.
“This new agreement will not arbitrary but voluntary and agreed on by all parties,” added Sivalingam.
The initial discussion will be regarding wages, while other issues to be negotiated will be discussed at a following meeting, outlined Sivalingam.
Despite the collective agreement expiring 31 March, Sivalingam added that payment for the plantation worker would still continue during April.