Prez urged to ensure estate workers get wage increase


By Rathindra Kuruwita

The government must immediately expose the high profits made by the plantation companies and inform the public that they could easily give their workers a daily basic salary of Rs. 1,000, the 1000 Movement, a collective of unions and civil society activists, said yesterday.

Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) told The Island that the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) had been misleading the public about the profits the plantation companies had been making.

The plantation companies had refused to increase wages for a long time, claiming that they had cash flow problems and that the productivity of Sri Lankan workers was lower than that of other tea producing countries, he said.

The MONLAR moderator said: "However, what we have to understand is that plantation companies often run exporting companies too. For example according to the Central Bank, the average tea auction’s price was Rs. 581.58 per kilo but the tea export price was Rs. 820.75 per kilo during the same period. The companies insist that their revenue should be calculated on the basis of tea auction’s price, but it is the tea export price which is 40% above the other that has to be taken into consideration. They just hide their real revenue through some creative accounting."

Rajapakshe said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had ordered the plantation companies to pay their workers a minimum wage of Rs 1000 from March, but the EFC had already opposed the move, insisting that it was a violation of the collective agreement it had signed with three unions in January 2019.

"So, the question is whether the government would compel the companies to amend the collective agreement or will it try to pay the salaries using the taxpayers’ money. We have always opposed paying estate sector workers’ wage hike at the expense of the taxpayer."

Rajapakshe said that the government should inform the public of the huge profits made by the plantation companies and how much they spent by way of workers’ wages and production costs.

On the other hand, it was the investments in mechanization and tea cultivation processes in other tea growing economies such as Kenya and Japan that had led to the phenomenal increase in labour productivity and, in turn, created the conditions necessary for realising higher wages and profits in real terms, Rajapakshe said.

"Our plantation companies have invested little in mechanization to make tea cultivation processes more efficient. Our companies pay high salaries for management and make speculative investments. If the government is serious not only about increasing daily wages of workers but also ensuring that the tea industry will be stable in the long run, it has to make a number of interventions. This is not at all easy and we will support President Rajapaksa if he has the political will to take on the companies."

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