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Bitter Aftertaste: How a Wage Hike Could Brew Disaster for the Ceylon Tea Industry

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The Ceylon tea industry, a vital component of the national economy, is under immense pressure from the proposed 700 Rupee wage increase for tea estate workers. While it is said that the intention behind the wage hike is to improve worker livelihoods, industry experts refer this as a pure political move aimed at gaining the estate worker’s vote and does next to nothing to address the real issues at hand. The potential repercussions could be catastrophic for the industry and its workforce, resulting in severe unemployment and economic instability.

Currently, the tea industry employs over one million people and significantly contributes to Sri Lanka’s GDP. However, many tea plantations already operate on razor-thin or negative margins due to fluctuating global market prices and rising production costs. Imposing a mandatory wage hike could push these plantations over the edge, leading to widespread financial distress and potential closures. Profits of a handful of companies from non-tea sources have been highlighted whereas the majority of companies are loss making. Furthermore, there was a one-time exchange gain from the dramatic currency devaluation last year. Ceylon tea already has the highest costs and the lowest productivity in the tea growing world.

The immediate concern is the financial strain this wage increase would place on the 21+ plantation companies. These businesses, particularly small to medium-sized ones, may struggle to absorb the additional costs. Faced with higher labour expenses, companies might be forced to cut costs elsewhere, potentially reducing worker benefits, delaying essential maintenance, or scaling back investments in sustainable farming practices. This could result in a decline in the quality of tea, making Ceylon tea less competitive internationally and leading to decreased sales and revenue.

The fear of industry collapse is not unfounded. If the tea industry crumbles, the ripple effects would be felt nationwide. Thousands of workers could lose their jobs, and the economic fallout could extend to other sectors, creating a significant national crisis. The proposed wage increase, while well-intentioned, risks becoming the catalyst for widespread economic hardship.

More alarmingly, the proposed wage hike could trigger a wave of unemployment. Smaller plantations that cannot afford the increased wages may be forced to downsize or shut down entirely, resulting in thousands of job losses. The very workers the wage increase aims to help could find themselves without any income, worsening poverty and economic instability in rural communities dependent on tea production.

Rather than focusing on a short-term wage increase, a more sustainable approach is needed. Comprehensive strategies should be implemented to improve worker livelihoods without jeopardizing the industry’s stability. This includes investing in worker training and development, enhancing healthcare and housing facilities and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

While the proposed 700 Rupee wage hike is aimed at uplifting tea estate workers, the potential for industry collapse and mass unemployment cannot be ignored. It is crucial to consider the broader implications and adopt a balanced approach that ensures the long-term sustainability of the Ceylon tea industry. Without careful consideration and strategic planning, the wage increase could lead to greater economic problems, leaving workers worse off than before. After all, decisions made for one’s political gains could end up destroying one of Sri Lanka’s largest forex earners.

**This article is written by an industry analyst who prefers to remain anonymous



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NCE highlights costs of Customs officers’ trade union action

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‘The recent actions taken by the Sri Lanka Customs Officers Union, including a two-day sick leave campaign and work-to-rule initiatives, have had profound implications across Sri Lanka’s business community, particularly affecting exporters and importers. These actions were initiated due to perceived grievances and unmet demands from the Customs Officers Union on various issues, the National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka (NCE) is quoted as saying in a press release.

The release adds: ‘Jayantha Karunaratne, president of the National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka highlighted the significant disruptions caused by these actions. He emphasized that the work-to-rule approach has resulted in substantial delays in clearing imported goods at ports and checkpoints, causing disruptions in production schedules and logistical operations. These delays have particularly impacted exporters, who face stringent deadlines to fulfill international orders, leading to strained relationships with overseas buyers and potential financial penalties for missed deliveries.

‘Additionally, these disruptions have imposed additional costs on businesses. Importers have incurred demurrage charges due to extended delays in clearing shipments, impacting profitability and operational efficiency. For exporters handling perishable goods like seafood and fresh produce, delays have posed substantial challenges, sometimes resulting in significant financial losses and resource wastage from spoiled goods.

‘The NCE underscored Customs’ critical role in facilitating trade and economic activity in Sri Lanka, stressing that efficient and predictable Customs processes are crucial for maintaining the competitiveness of Sri Lankan businesses globally. Given that exports are pivotal to Sri Lanka’s economy, disruptions to Customs operations can have far-reaching impacts on economic growth, employment, and overall national prosperity.

‘Expressing serious concern about potential escalations, the NCE warned that prolonged strikes or ongoing disruptions could further destabilize business confidence and investor sentiment. They urged swift and constructive dialogue between the Customs Officers’ Union and relevant authorities to address grievances and find mutually beneficial solutions. Restoring normalcy and reliability to Customs operations, they emphasized, is imperative to support the resilience and growth of Sri Lanka’s export sector amid challenging global economic conditions.

‘In addition to operational disruptions, exporters are increasingly voicing frustration and concerns about Sri Lanka’s future business environment. Many are contemplating relocating operations to countries offering more stable and predictable trade conditions. This potential exodus poses significant economic risks, including job losses, reduced export revenues, and diminished investor confidence.

‘Shiham Marikar, Secretary General/CEO of NCE, stressed the urgent need for Sri Lanka to address these challenges promptly to retain and attract businesses. He emphasized the importance of creating a supportive environment for exporters characterized by efficient Customs processes, regulatory stability, and supportive government policies. Such an environment is crucial for retaining existing exporters and attracting new investments, thereby fostering economic growth and enhancing competitiveness in global markets.

‘Highlighting the competitive nature of the global economy, the NCE emphasized the necessity for Sri Lanka to maintain a reliable and efficient trade infrastructure to remain competitive internationally. Addressing exporter concerns and ensuring a stable business environment should be a top priority for policymakers and stakeholders alike.

‘It is crucial for the government to take swift action to prevent recurring disruptions caused by the Customs Officers’ Union. The recent disruptions have disproportionately affected Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which are the backbone of Sri Lanka’s economy. SMEs, operating with smaller margins and less flexibility, are particularly vulnerable to delays and uncertainties in trade operations.

‘These disruptions not only impact daily SME operations but also undermine their competitiveness in domestic and international markets. Many SMEs rely heavily on timely imports and efficient exports to sustain operations, making disruptions detrimental to their growth and viability. Prolonged instability in trade operations risks SMEs relocating or downsizing operations in Sri Lanka, posing significant threats to employment, economic growth, and overall stability.

‘The NCE urged the government to implement robust measures to prevent future disruptions, including constructive dialogue with Customs officers and reforms enhancing Customs efficiency and predictability. Creating a stable and supportive business environment is crucial for protecting SMEs and fostering their growth, thereby contributing to Sri Lanka’s economic resilience and prosperity’.

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Elevating customer experiences, Sampath Bank partners with Royal Colombo Golf Club

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The team from Royal Colombo Golf Club, including Amrith De Soysa – Captain, Gehan Siribaddanan – Vice Captain, Ms. Geera Gajamugan – Director of Administration and Shiran D. Rahuman – Manager of Marketing & Membership Services, stands on the left. De Soysa is seen receiving the main sponsorship from Ms, Ayodhya Iddawela – Managing Director of Sampath Bank PLC, surrounded by Tharaka Ranwala, SDGM – Marketing, Customer Care and Card Centre, Pujitha Rajapaksa, Chief Manager – Marketing and Shantha Kalawitigoda, Manager – Events & Activations.

Sampath Bank is pleased to announce its sponsorship of the prestigious July Monthly Medal Event at the Royal Colombo Golf Club (RCGC), scheduled for the 12th and 13th of July 2024. The sponsorship was formalised during a cheque-handing ceremony on the 10th of July, marking a significant collaboration between Sampath Bank and the RCGC.

The July Monthly Medal Event is a highlight on the golfing calendar, attracting over 300 golfers from across the country. The event will be held over two days, culminating in an award ceremony on the second day. Sampath Bank’s involvement acknowledges its commitment to fostering customer satisfaction and providing exceptional experiences for its valued customers.

Participants in the event will enjoy a variety of activities, including a golf practice session with coaching, the main golf tournament, and an exclusive Cheese & Wine evening on the first day for Sampath Bank customers. Following the two-day tournament, there will be a grand award ceremony and a cocktail event to honour the winners. This initiative not only promotes golf but also provides a unique platform for high-net-worth individuals to engage in a distinguished social setting.

Commenting on the sponsorship, Tharaka Ranwala, Senior Deputy General Manager Marketing, Customer Care & Card Centre, said, “Sampath Bank has always been a strong supporter of all sports, though golf has traditionally been less highlighted, despite its popularity among elite and high-net-worth customers within the banking industry. Sponsoring this event aligns perfectly with our new vision and strategy, which emphasises a greater focus on corporate customers and high-net-worth individuals. Although this is our first partnership with the Royal Colombo Golf Club, we bring extensive experience from our previous collaborations with the Tamil Golf Association’s events in the UK and Canada.”

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Asiri Hospitals and NITF sign landmark agreement to provide tangible healthcare benefits for all Agrahara members

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Asiri Group of Hospitals, trusted for high standards in patient-centered care has signed a landmark agreement with the National Insurance Trust Fund (NITF), to provide comprehensive concessions to all government employees through the Agrahara Medical Insurance scheme.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Dr. Manjula Karunaratne, Director/Group CEO of Asiri Hospitals, and Gamani N. Liyanarachchi, CEO of NITF, during a ceremony held recently.

The event was attended by several distinguished participants from both organizations. Representing NITF were Sagala Abhayawickrama, Chairperson, Samil Thushara, AGM Operations, Nimali Pathirana, AGM Insurance, Prathibha Welikanna, Asst. Manager Legal, Nuwan Dissanayake, Asst. Manager Marketing, Dammika Weerakoon, Acting AGM Finance.

Asiri Hospitals was represented by Nihal Ratnayake, Director Operations Asiri Central Hospital, Indresh Fernando, Chief Process Officer, Bhathiya Jayasinghe, Group Head, Business Development, Dhananjaya Bandara Dela, Head of Business Development, Government Sector.

The enduring partnership aims to offer tangible healthcare benefits and the renowned comprehensive healthcare services offered by Asiri Hospitals to all NITF Agrahara members. It marks a major milestone in Asiri Hospitals’ commitment to build long-term collaborations that benefits the community. It also reaffirms Asiri Hospitals’ position as a trusted healthcare provider ensuring healthcare is more accessible, affordable, while uplifting the living standards of the public service.

Importantly, Agrahara members are eligible to seek treatment from any hospital in the Asiri group or its laboratories. The agreement also introduces a cashless admission scheme for NITF members, simplifying the process and enabling seamless access to Asiri Hospitals’ services without the need for upfront payments. Members can benefit from waived admission fees, reducing the financial burden for those seeking medical care. Room rates are also heavily discounted.

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