Salary dispute in tea estate Workers’ demands discarded like tea stains

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Tea workers’ salaries are revised once in two years. The two-year Collective Agreement (CA) between Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) and trade unions was to be renewed on October 15, 2018. The new agreement which was signed almost two weeks ago was not published as usual. Trade unions are critisising the RPCs for depriving the tea workers of the attendance bonus and some other incentives when administering a so-called increase in the basic salary. The gazetting of the CA follows months of stalled negotiations. 

  • Estate workers betrayed after a long struggle
  • Gazzette of CA  still on hold

New agreement an eyewash

The 1000 Movement is a collective of unions and grassroots activists who are keen on increasing the daily basic salary of an estate worker to Rs. 1,000. Duminda Nagamuwa of the 1000 Movement said that there is no such increment provided in the newly-signed agreement.

RPCs refused to accede to the tea workers’ thousand rupee wage increase demand and signed the Collective Agreement recently which saw the basic wage being increased from Rs.500 to Rs. 700. 


They have made the basic salary Rs. 700, removing the attendance and productivity allowances. So, essentially the daily net salary hike has been Rs. 20. This is just an eye wash Duminda Nagamuwa,The 1000 Movement


According to the 2016 CA the basic salary of a plantation worker was increased to Rs. 500. Rs 60 a day was given as an attendance allowance, Rs 30 as a price share supplement and Rs 140 as a productivity allowance. So, altogether the daily wage of a worker came to about Rs 730.

As per the new agreement, a worker gets a daily wage of Rs. 750 with a fixed share supplement of Rs. 50; which was Rs. 30 earlier. The other two key allowances including attendance allowance of Rs. 60 and Productivity Incentive of Rs. 140 were terminated.

“Now they have made the basic salary Rs. 700, removing the attendance and productivity allowances. They have increased the price share supplement to Rs. 50 from Rs. 30, making the new overall daily wage Rs. 750. So, essentially the daily net salary hike has been just Rs. 20. This is just an eye wash,” Nagamuwa complained. 

Government’s responsibility

The meeting initially scheduled to be held on February 5 (Tuesday) with Tamil Progressive Front (TPF), RPCs, Plantations Ministry and Labour Ministry to come to a settlement regarding the salary increase of tea estate workers had been postponed, State Minister and TPF representative V.Radhakrishnan said.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, he said the officials of the RPCs had not confirmed their participation at the meeting. The TPF politicians including ministers Mano Ganesan, V.Radhakrishnan and P.Thigambaram are insisting on crediting the productivity allowance  of Rs.140 to the basic salary.


If the plantation companies don’t agree with our demand, we need the government to intervene and contribute to the salaries of the workers. That is when we will decide whether to stay in the unity government or quit State Minister V. Radhakrishnan


As a result of their objection, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to delay the issuing of the gazette notification pertaining to increasing the daily wage of estate workers up to Rs.700. This was to allow negotiations to continue regarding the issue until a solution is found.

“If the plantation companies don’t agree with our demand, we need the government to intervene and contribute to the salaries of the workers. That is when we will decide whether to stay in the unity government or quit. The government also has a responsibility,” State Minister Radhakrishnan said.

Trade unions and their genuine purposes

There are around five main trade unions operating in the estates including Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC). These labour unions are closely aligned with political parties. At a time when the expenditure for food, health, education, transport and clothes questions whether the basic needs of estate workers are fulfilled, compared to other ordinary workers, every tea estate worker is supposed to pay Rs.150 per month as the contribution to the trade union the individual holds membership with. Even the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, one of the main trade unions in the country, charges only Rs.20 per month from every member.

Nagamuwa of the 1000 Movement said it is ridiculous as to how the so-called trade unions first give the consent to the agreement which was signed in their presence and later pose objections to the same agreement. He opines that the issue is nothing, but a political agenda.

“How unfair and inhumane it is to snatch such an amount of money from salaries of tea workers and not do anything for their betterment? Ministers Thigambaram and Mano Ganesan opposed this newly signed agreement not with the genuine sympathy for tea workers. It was because they thought they could gain political mileage out of this. As they have always been, they are just using the issues of their community for political gains. It is a betrayal of a long struggle,” Nagamuwa said.

‘Govt. Can’t tell us what to pay and how to pay’

“With our new productivity based wage model, workers earn as much as Rs.80.000 per month if they work harder,” said Employers’ Federation of Ceylon Plantations Group Chairman Roshan Rajadurai.

“There are many families that have more than one source of income and enjoy a monthly income that exceeds the minimum wage of a tea estate worker. They earn a considerable amount of money to support their daily expenditure through other income sources. For example, men in the estate sector work as construction workers, three wheeler drivers and labourers in road construction.


The Government does not provide everything for these workers. If they are paying the salaries of tea workers, they can tell and do what they want. We are the responsible party regarding the wages of the workers EFC Plantation Services Group Chairman Roshan Rajadurai


“The Government does not provide everything for these workers. If they are paying the salaries of tea workers, they can tell and do what they want. We are the responsible party regarding the wages of the workers, therefore the Government cannot tell us what to pay and how to pay. 

“If they really want to intervene, they can easily be a part of it and pay the workers. I don’t think the Government is in a position to do so because they are not even able to pay the EPF of the workers,” he said.

Is Sri Lankan tea running down in int’l market?

Tea is the second most excessively consumed beverage in the world. However, planters claim that the Sri Lankan tea industry is experiencing a difficult phase in the international market. Rajadurai told the Daily Mirror that their plantation companies are running down.

“We cannot financially afford to fulfill their demand for a daily wage of 1000 at this moment. We can afford to pay the salaries from what we earn. Our companies are running down in the market. The competition in the international tea market is high. Comparing with the tea workers in other countries, we have not even achieved 10% of their level of productivity. These happenings have made an already bad situation worse. The international prices are falling,” he said.

Despite him claiming that tea prices are falling, Colombo Tea Auction prices are not falling, but have been rising. The following table shows the tea average prices during every two years between 2012 and 2018.


despite there being competition in the international market, Sri Lankan tea is not affected which is why tea prices have gone up without facing a threat at the moment Tea Board Chairman  Lucille Wijewardena


The Daily Mirror also spoke to the Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Lucille Wijewardena to inquire about the current situation of Sri Lankan Tea in the international market.
Wijewardena refuted Rajadurai’s statement that tea prices are falling. “despite there being competition in the international market, Sri Lankan tea is not affected which is why tea prices have gone up without facing a threat at the moment,” he said.

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Lanka hugely vulnerable to climate crises: Report

Sri Lanka faces a climate crisis far more severe than the just-ended political crisis, a top weather expert warned – a prediction reinforced by a separate report stating Lanka had been the second worst-affected country by extreme weather events in 2017.

The warning from Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Executive Director Hemantha Withanage also comes as Professor Mohan Munasinghe, former vice chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says the earth is facing climate change-linked temperature rises double the danger limit posited by scientists.

Professor Munasinghe, who shared the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace, said the outcome of this year’s global climate summit, COP24, held in Portugal, was disappointing. “It will do little to halt the still-rising trajectory of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the moment, we are heading for a 3C-plus temperature rise by 2100, which is well above the danger limit of 1.5-2C,” he said.

The IPCC 1.5 Report states that limiting global warming to 1.5C, rather than simply below 2C, could help avoid some of the worst effects of climate change and potentially reduce bad impacts triggered by changing climate.

It also made clear that the world would have to slash greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide by about 45 per cent by 2030, a target many see as unrealistic, so countries such as Sri Lanka are bound to keep bearing the brunt of extreme weather events.

Sri Lanka is ranked the second-worst affected country in relation to extreme weather events in 2017, only next to Puerto Rico, in the report, Global Climate Risk Index 2019, produced recently by the climate think-tank, German watch.

According to the report, storms and their direct implications – rainfall deluges, floods and landslides – were a major cause of damage in 2017. Of the 10 most affected countries in 2017, four were hit by tropical cyclones, with a clear link being found between climate change and record-breaking downpours in hurricanes.


The damage from the May 2017 floods and landslides is estimated at Rs. 70.2 billion

The report suggests severe tropical cyclones will increase in number with every tenth of a degree in global average temperature rise.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the disaster that was triggered by heavy rain brought about by the southwest monsoon in May 2017 caused 219 deaths with 74 other people still missing according to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Report produced by the World Bank-linked Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery grant-funding body.

While scientists are wary about saying global warming is entirely to blame for extreme weather events, the frequency and intensity of such events in Sri Lanka have clearly increased, with the May 2017 storms following a similar extreme weather event in 2016 that wreaked havoc in many parts of Sri Lanka.

Damage and losses from the floods and landslides in May 2016 topped Rs. 90 billion and damage from the May 2017 floods is estimated at Rs. 70.2 billion. Nearly five million people were affected by the May 2016 events, while that of May 2017 left eight million people in hardship. Both events left close to 10,000 houses fully damaged, and more than 100,000 partially damaged.

Environment Ministry Secretary Anura Dissanayake said the high cost of disaster management was a burden to the national economy as there was no-one to provide funds to face such disasters as happened in the case of the 20014 tsunami.

“The government should find funds for disaster management directly from the finance available for national development and for services such as education and health,” Mr. Dissanayake said.

Prof. W.L. Sumathipala, a former head of Sri Lanka’s Climate Change Secretariat, pointed out the need for carrying out proper scientific evaluation of data as factors beside global warming could contribute to extreme weather events and their consequences.

He pointed out while rainfall patterns could be altered by climate change, the resulting floods and landslides would be made worse by ad hoc, unplanned, non-scientific development that causes environmental repercussions.

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Tea Market Report : May 28-30, 2018

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Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs: Neglecting the country’s highest export earner

By Nimal Sanderatne

Tea has been Sri Lanka’s highest export earner from the latter part of the nineteenth century and is still the country’s highest domestic value added export earner.

Despite the paramount importance of tea for the economy, the seventy post independent years have been characterized by a neglect of the tea industry. Over the past seven decades the country has lost her preeminent position in global tea production and exports, though it remains among the highest producers and exporters of tea. A new resolve to enhance productivity and increase production of tea to increase exports could be of immense benefit to the economy.

Neglect
High taxation in the past, threats of nationalization, nationalization of tea plantations, mismanagement of state owned plantations and the underfunding of the Tea Research Institute have hampered the tea plantations. The latest blunder was the banning of glyphosate imports that is an essential weedicide in 2015 without a scientific basis.

Achievement
The bright spot in tea has been the development of smallholdings tea cultivation that now accounts for nearly 70 percent of the country’s tea production. The productivity on tea smallholdings is much higher than on the estates. Continue reading

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A future for GMOs in Sri Lanka ; Can Sri Lanka long averse to biotechnology, be fertile soil for GM agriculture?

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Plant Quarantine in Katunayake

Genetically modified organisms are a big story in India. More than 90 percent of India’s cotton crop, which is one of the largest in the world, is genetically modified for pest resistance.

But, nearby Sri Lanka doesn’t have a significant presence of GM crops or GM food at all. In fact, according to available government data, there aren’t any GM crops or products being produced or sold in the island. Many scientists think that changing climatic and economic conditions could make certain GM crops are desirable in the domestic market.That does not mean there couldn’t be in the future, though. Continue reading

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World’s first Climate Change Research Station in Sri Lanka

By Raj Moorthy

Dilmah, the only Sri Lankan tea brand that has established a presence in 100 countries, is setting up the world’s first Climate Research Station at Queensberry Estate in Nawalapitiya.

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New climate change research station

This was revealed by Dilmah Tea CEO and Director Dilhan Fernando during a forum organised by the Sunday Times Business Club (STBC) titled ‘Sri Lanka Inc: Challenges and Opportunities’ held at the Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo on Monday. (More details of the STBC event will appear next week). Continue reading

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PM’s office announces an on-line management Information System for paddy/rice

Original article

1723976083DI-P04-28-09-(Re)-kwk-1File Photo of farmers planting paddy in waterlogged fields. It has been decided to have an on-line Database System for Paddy/Rice stocks which could then be accessed easily by any official/or member of the public at any time, according to the Prime Minister’s office.

A statement issued by it said: Every year, the government makes an effort to stabilize the price of paddy/rice. But owing to non-availability of comprehensive information success is limited. Establishing a computerized digital MIS system for Paddy/Rice Sector will strengthen that effort and decision makers, relying on this Management Information System (MIS), will be able to take informed decisions as to the quantity of Paddy and Rice available in the country and the actual need to supplement by way of imports. The project will be implemented under the cooperation of several government and private institutes, led by the National Planning Department, with the guidance of the Central Programme Management Unit of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs of which the Prime Minister is Minister. Continue reading

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