The Government yesterday remained firm on the proposed daily wage hike for estate workers from March and asked the plantation firms to come up with a new formula to offer relief whilst minimising damage to financial viability.
The outcome follows the Ceylon Planters Association and the Employers Federation of Ceylon meeting Plantation Industries Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana first followed by a separate discussion with Secretary to President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera. Last week President Gotabaya Rajapaksa honouring an election pledge said estate workers’ minimum wage will be increased by Rs. 145 or 17% to Rs. 1,000 in March from Rs. 855 at present.
At the meeting with the Minister, the private sector made a detailed presentation on the deteriorating situation of the plantation companies with tea prices at auctions having come down to Rs. 510 per kilo from Rs. 620 a few years ago. The cost of production is higher, and rubber prices too have been very low.
The Minister and Dr. Jayasundera have acknowledged the importance of the tea industry as well as their challenges but noted the new Government has offered relief to the private sector via the economic stimulus that included far reaching tax cuts. It was also stressed that estate workers must receive benefits as well.
The presidential directive comes midst a Collective Agreement currently in force in the plantation sector.
In response to requests made by the Government, the EFC and Planters Association have been asked to come back with a method with which workers as well as private sector’s interests can be met. “In short we are required to come with a win-win formula,” a planter told the Daily FT.
It is likely that the industry will come up with an improved productivity based wage system though in earlier wage negotiations unions didn’t agree to terms and conditions. (CdeS)