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Estate workers sought a wage increase for their survival, not to lead a luxurious life –Sathasivam

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by Douglas Nanayakkara in Nuwara Eliya

The purchasing power of plantation workers should be pushed up if they are to be healthy to work hard by eating a balanced diet at least once a day. This is the reason they are demanding a daily wage of Rs.1,000 so that they could fulfill their basic need to be healthy to work hard, said S. Sathasivam, president/general secretary of Ceylon Workers’ Alliance

He commended the Prime Minister cum Finance Minister for proposing a salary hike of Rs. 1,000 for estate workers in the budget for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka.

When tea estates were managed especially by the British, the workers had the privilege of enjoying a string of welfare measures such as the infrastructure, dry rations and so many other benefits that enabled the then estate owners to enhance

production and promote Ceylon tea to the entire world and earn substantial foreign exchange, he told a media conference at Cooperative Holiday Home in Nuwara Eliya last week.

“It is the tea industry that has been contributing to the GDP during and after the departure of the British. It should not be forgotten that our country was first popular for its finest tea the world over before it became famous for anything else”, he stressed.

After the government take-over of the tea estates soon after independence, they were handed over to the Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SLSPC), Janatha Estate Development Board (JEDB) and USAWASAMA for management and administration. Even during the management of the estates by the government, securing wage hikes and welfare benefits were possible through trade union activities such as ‘work to rule’ or strikes, the former provincial councilor noted.

The Srima Shasthri Pact was in force during the 1960s. There was a decline in all aspects of the plantation industry. Everything came to a standstill as there was a scarcity of male workers as most of them left Ceylon for good. Some men were sent/transferred to other estates where there was an acute scarcity. This situation disrupted the unity that existed among the plantation community, Sathasivam asserted.

In 1992, the estates were handed over to private companies on lease while the government retained ownership. The estates were leased out with the intention of promoting the tea industry in the country as the management and maintenance of the estates were costly. The expectation was that the companies will look into the welfare and the other necessities and wages of the workers while earning profits, he explained.

The earlier practice to increase the wages was based on the cost of living index, as this was no other effective method. The companies urged the trade unions to enter into a Collective Agreement, and as a result, it was decided to increase the salaries/wages of the workers every two years, he further said.

Subsequently, the estates were not properly managed; there was no weeding, proper manuring, pruning, road maintenance and development carried out by these private companies. Consequently, the wonderful tea estates that brought immense foreign exchange turned into jungles and forests. Some of the estates were abandoned resulting in an increase in the breeding of leopards, wasps, snakes and bees , Sathasivam continued.

“We hear about deaths of leopard and snakes and wasp attacks. It is evident that the workers are faced with untold hardships but despite their suffering, the estate management continue to insist on 18kg of tea leaf for a day’s pay/wage”, he said.

Based on the cost of living index and commodity prices five years ago, the workers demanded a salary of Rs. 1,000 per day based on the then prices of coconut, sugar and flour. There were no luxury items included. Considering the skyrocketing prices of these commodities the government has decided to increase the salaries of estate workers through the budget by asking the private management companies to pay Rs. 1,000 per day, he added.

“We cannot compare the estate sector to any other labour related industrial sector as this requires very hard labour and lot of energy working under climatically adverse conditions whereas others don’t suffer as much. The estate management demanding higher performance without considering the adversities faced by the plantations workers is inhuman”, he noted.

Welfare activities beneficial to estate workers are not implemented by the companies. Recruitment is always done on a hire and fire policy. Most infrastructure and welfare facilities are provided by the government now and the money saved could be utilized to maintain estate fields that will give a good yield and minimize mortality by wild animal attacks, he suggested.

“Unattended tea estates can also be converted into profitable cash crop plantations”, he said.

“We insist that the companies should focus more on productive estates and fields that are managed properly for a good yield while protecting the workers by looking into their needs and welfare as they asked for a wage increase only for survival and not to lead a life of luxury”, Sathasivam added.



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Death threats won’t deter us – EC Chairman

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Nimal Punchihewa (Chairman ECSL) picture by PRIYAN DE SILVA
Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that members of  the election commission won’t be deterred by death threats.
He said that members of the commission  M M Mohamed,  K P P Pathirana and S B Diwarathne have been repeatedly threatened and the police have not been able to apprehend the perpetrators.
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Three people dead after torrential rain in New Zealand

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At least three people have died due to flash flodding in Auckland (picture BBC)

BBC reported that at least three people have died and one is missing after New Zealand’s largest city experienced its “wettest day on record” on Friday.

Auckland is said to have received 75% of its usual summer rainfall in just 15 hours.

A local state of emergency was declared as authorities managed evacuations and widespread flooding.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thanked emergency services for their swift response to the disaster.The new prime minister travelled to Auckland, where he also expressed his condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the floods.

“The loss of life underscores the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic”, he said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.

The downpour flooded the airport, shifted houses and resulted in power cuts to homes for hours.

New Zealand’s defence forces were mobilised to assist with evacuations and emergency shelters were set up across the city.

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Parliament prorogued on Friday night

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President says cabinet agreeable to fully implementing 13 A until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment

Parliament was prorogued from midnight Friday (27) by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under powers vested in him by Article 70 of the Constitution, parliamentary sources said on Friday.

The Department of Government Printing was due to issue the relevant notification on Friday night but it was not out as this edition went to print.However the President’ Media Division (PMD) confirmed the prorogation on Friday evening saying that President Wickremesinghe “is expected” to make a policy statement based on the decisions taken after the 75th Independence anniversary when parliament recommences on Feb.8.

A separate bulletin said that the president had informed the party leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the cabinet was agreeable to “fully implementing (the) 13th Amendment until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment.”

Parliamentary sources explained that a prorogation which is a temporary recess of parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning parliament may be advanced by another presidential proclamation provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

Political observers believe that the prorogation is related to the president’s effort to secure as wide a consensus as possible on the National Question. They dismissed speculation that it is related to the scheduled local elections. This issue was clarified by the PMD bulletin.

When parliament is prorogued, the proclamation should notify the date of the commencement of the new session of parliament under Article 70 of the Constitution.During the prorogation the speaker continues to function and MPs retain their membership of the legislature even though they do not attend meetings of the House.

The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current business before the House and all proceedings pending at the time are quashed except impeachments.A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent session after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before parliament, have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation, may be proceeded with during the next session,” states the paragraph (4) of article 70 of the constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not result in an end to pending business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new session.

At the beginning of a new session all items of business which were in the order paper need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.At the end of a prorogation a new session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the president.

He is empowered under the constitution to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each session of parliament and to preside at ceremonial sittings of parliament in terms of the provisions of paragraph (2) of article 33 of the constitution.The president is empowered to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each new session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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