Plantation unions demand wage hike ahead of MoU renewal

Wednesday, 23 February 2011 00:39 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Trade organisations want daily wage increased to Rs. 500 with incentive structure scrapped

By Shezna Shums

Trouble is brewing in the plantation industry with the call to increase salaries as the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between worker unions and companies come up for renewal at the end of next month.

The MoU between the Planters Association of Ceylon and trade unions is to take place on 30 March. This is signed once every two years.

The main contention from the tea plantation sector is to increase their basic salary from Rs. 285 to Rs. 500. A tea plantation worker currently earns a basic salary of Rs. 285 and added to this are other amounts of money based on their productivity.

Speaking to Daily FT, Ceylon Workers Alliance Leader S. Sathasivam said that this was the main issue that would be brought up when the MoU is discussed.

He added that on average a plantation worker may earn about Rs. 405 a day; this is when incentive based money is given and if they work over a given percentage of time per month.

Workers who also pluck over 16 to 18 kilos of tea are given an extra amount of money.

However, the issue regarding such a method of incentive payment, stated Sathasivam, is that the working conditions are not conducive to the tea pluckers who have to work outdoors in the harsh weather conditions and such incentive payments also leaves less time for the tea pluckers to conduct other social activities with their families.

Another issue that may affect the efficiency of a tea plucker is that when the plantations do not produce large amounts of tea buds that are needed for tea leaves, thereby affecting the final output of the plantation workers.

The recent rains have also reduced the amount of tea that can be plucked from the tea estates, thereby affecting the final wage earned by a tea plucker.

“Some tea estates are not well maintained with adequate fertiliser and are now full of weeds; in such a situation the tea pluckers may not be able to collect large amounts of tea, which again affects their daily pay,” said Sathasivam.

He pointed out that when the MoU was signed two years ago, the decision was made to pay workers through incentives. “So now we are asking for a basic salary of Rs. 500 a day for a worker and whatever incentive based payments are there is fine.”

The union is also planning awareness programmes for the employees ahead of the MoU renewal.

However, planters emphasise that Sri Lanka has a high production cost, making the industry less competitive globally. The Planters Association of Ceylon did not respond when contacted for comment.