Female field officers making strides in plantation industry
Friday, 7 November 2014 00:01
Women workers in estates applaud pioneering empowerment initiative
A feminine touch has been welcomed by the traditionally male-dominated estate sector, with a pioneering initiative by a Regional Plantation Company (RPC) to empower and develop female field officers receiving the strong support and commendation of the company’s female workers.
Kahawatte Plantations PLC which pioneered the concept now employs 20 female field officers and assistant field officers in total, who clad in boots, trousers and jackets, are functioning as successfully as their male counterparts in many different areas of the country.
Emboldened by the success of the initiative, other plantation companies too are taking similar measures, raising the possibility of a substantial number of female field officers and assistant field officers joining the ranks of plantation companies in the not-so-distant future.
Kahawatte Plantations commenced the program to train and develop female field officers in 2012, with a batch of aspiring 20 candidates – giving priority to children of staff employed in different capacities by the estates of the company.
The comprehensive six-month training program – which included all subject areas generally covered in the training of a plantation executive – focused on providing the ‘best of both worlds’ by incorporating both theoretical and practical elements and training by scientists of the Tea Research Institute (TRI).
After receiving training on an array of subject areas relating to agriculture such as harvesting, application of fertiliser, good agricultural practices, etc. and others including labour management, the trainees were examined periodically to gauge their practical and theoretical understanding.
At the successful conclusion of the first phase of training, the female field officers received certificates jointly awarded by the company and the TRI.
The first-ever batch of female field officers who successfully completed the first phase of training one-and-a-half years ago are now undergoing more advanced training.
Speaking with enthusiasm of her experience since becoming an Assistant Field Officer after receiving training at Talawakelle, 25-year old Latika Arukgoda (a member of the pilot batch) – now employed at the Houpe Estate of Kahawatte Plantations – revealed that especially female workers have welcomed the appointment of females as field officers.
“Women cannot speak of some of the problems they are facing with men but they are comfortable that they can confide any issue – even family problems – in us. They are very happy about our appointment and we are excited about this opportunity too,” Latika said.
Madushani Mallika Arachchi, a 25-year old Female Field Officer who received training at Pelmadulla and is now overseeing a group of over 30 pluckers including male workers at the Rilhena Estate of Kahawatte Plantations, also noted that female workers are particularly supportive of the program.
“Only women can fully understand the issues of women. Since about 70% of our pluckers are female, this has made a big difference,” said Madushani, who herself comes from an estate background with her mother having functioned as an Estate Welfare Officer.
Acknowledging that the sight of female field officer overseeing pluckers at first raised a few eyebrows, she noted that however male workers have treated the officers with respect and have given their full cooperation.
“Women have contributed immensely to the success of the plantation sector. In addition to empowering them and making more effective use of their skills, this pioneering program – one of several female empowerment initiatives underway at present – pays tribute to the valuable contributions of our female workers,” Roshan Rajadurai, Chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon (which represents 22 Regional Plantation Companies) explained.
“The success of this pioneering initiative will encourage many other Regional Plantation Companies to follow suit. Programs such as these yields multiple benefits, as they also enable the top management of the companies to gauge the pulse of the predominantly female workforce more effectively and support enhanced employer-employee relations.”
The Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) – a tripartite collaboration between RPCs, worker unions and the Government – is spearheading numerous other initiatives to empower females in RPC-managed estates, including providing them training to become Child Development Officers (CDOs) with national diplomas.
In addition to efforts to empower female workers, Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) have been commended and have received accolades at the Asian regional level for empowering physically-challenged estate residents, among others.