I read with interest the Daily FT article titled ‘Fresh storm in teacup’. (http://www.ft.lk/top-story/Fresh-storm-in-teacup/26-693723)
Having a background in plantation for two-and-a-half decades, and moreover, having inherited the profession, I wish to comment on some salient points with a view to putting certain records straight.
The “storm in a teacup” was an infamous phrase the industry has kept hearing in the last three decades and especially every time a wage increase for the downtrodden plantation workers were in the offing. If a wage increase for these valuable human assets that is not reflected in the balance sheet of the estate is considered a “storm in the teacup”, one must carefully evaluate as to who did “stir” the “teacup” for decades, making it inconsumable to such an extent that serving the tea has become impossible.
The supposedly State-mismanaged SLSPC and JEDB Plantations were privatised in 1991 and handed over to Regional Plantation Companies to be better managed in terms of proper inputs, swift decision making and competent execution. If those criteria or critical factors had been met in the last three decades, plantation workers would be earning not Rs. 1,000 but instead at least a minimum of Rs. 1,500 for the last five years.
True, there is a crisis in the industry. If one recalls, this foul cry was inevitable since plantations were privatised. Never after privatisation did the RPCs willingly agree to a wage increase without prior agitation by the workers.
This stupidity has created mistrust among the workers that their masters no longer have a finger on their pulse, and began drifting more and more towards the trade unions, who have become their ultimate saviours. This insecurity has also resulted in workers moving away from estate work to greener pastures while still holding onto their estate quarters – a huge cost to the Regional Plantation Companies. All in all the yields of the plantation companies have taken a nosedive since privatisation.
A careful analysis would reveal the extent to which RPCs had taken over the tea revenue in 1991 and compare it with how much of that land remains in the present day. It would be a clear indication of how much field development work have been carried out by the privatised management.
The shortage of workers for new planting and replanting is one of the adversities faced by the plantations. Obviously, who would remain in the estate when the pulse of the people is not felt, and the envisaged efficiencies in management inputs have further downsized the properties, thus stirring the tea cup to create thunderstorms and making it impossible to serve?
We planters, who once called ourselves gentlemen and the cream of society, must acknowledge that we have failed. We have failed our people and the nation. A serious note needs to be taken that arrogance, deception and stupidity will only result in the natural death for our beloved industry, as in the parable of the a hen that laid the golden eggs.
The decision of taken by the Government of the day was substantive and justifiable. The issue was that we were not prepared for it.