Plantation worker strike over higher wages continues

Thursday, 6 December 2018 01:23 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • UNF-linked MPs discourage estate workers from participating in the strike
  • Stakeholders says wage linked to productivity critical for industry sustainability
  • Warns SL fast losing its position in tea world

Trade union action demanding Rs. 1,000 daily wage in the plantation sector continued for the second day, dimming hopes for a breakthrough, with Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) insisting on an alternative productivity-based wage model, and politicians calling for fair reasoning. 

United National Front (UNF)-linked MPs, National Union of Workers (NUW) Leader MP Palany Thigambaram, Up-Country People's Front (UCPF) Leader V. S. Radhakrishnan, and UNP MP Vadivel Suresh yesterday called on the estate workers to think before they take part in the strike, noting that they would have to face issues in January without a proper salary.

“The union that had called for the strike hasn’t even been able to work towards in getting the arrears from the strike that took place in 2015. So, be thoughtful in taking part in this strike,” the MPs told journalists in Colombo.

Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) Leader MP Arumugam Thondaman on 3 December requested all plantation workers to join in an indefinite strike, until plantation companies agrees to increase their daily wages to Rs. 1000, which continued to day two.

Shifting entirely into a productivity-based wage model is the only sustainable way that can benefit the industry, companies, workers and the national economy, said the plantation industry stakeholders.

“Rising productivity is an absolute must, amidst the internal and external challenges. It is critical that wage is linked to productivity for the sustainability of the industry, and the national economy as a whole,” sources told Daily FT on condition of anonymity.

It was pointed out that if the daily wage is increased to Rs. 1,000 the impact would be as high as Rs. 9.1 billion, while gratuity impact is Rs. 10.9 billion totalling to Rs. 20 billion. Furthermore, annually the companies have to absorb Rs. 9.6 billion, including the Rs. 437 million as gratuity impact.

“The future of the industry and the livelihood and sustenance of over one million people dependent on the industry are in the hands of the workers, and not in the hands of the Managers, as the Managers can only manage the industry making use of the resources and the revenue.  We cannot, as responsible professionals, go and commit to something that we know for sure we cannot honour,” the sources said.

Sources said that the impact for the RPCs for the proposed wage package of Rs. 940 is, for wages alone, Rs. 6.3 billion, and for gratuity, Rs. 5.5 billion, totalling to Rs. 11.8 billion.  Furthermore, annually the companies have to absorb Rs. 6.5 billion every year, as the cost of the wage increase and the annual gratuity impact of Rs. 218 million.

Currently the average annual plucking average per worker is around 21 kilos.  The norm is a worker should pluck between 16 kilos to 18 kilos per day.  If they pluck more than the norm, the workers are entitled to an additional payment of Rs. 28 per kilo over and above the daily wage package at present. “Therefore, the worker has to increase only one kilo output if they are to reach the Rs. 1,000 per day, based on the productivity-based wage of Rs. 46/- per kilo, including the EPF/ETF,” they pointed out.