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



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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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.

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UK takes up forced cremation of Covid-19 victims



The UK has raised human rights concerns with Sri Lanka including forced cremation of COVID-19 victims.

High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Sarah Hulton OBE said in Tweeter message that the UN report in this regard is to be published next week and she would inform the approach to UN Human Rights Council.

“UK raising human rights concerns with Sri Lanka, including forced cremation of COVID19 victims. UN report to be published next week, will inform the approach to @UN_HRC,” she tweeted.



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Electors unaware of electoral register revision process – CMEV



Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayaka, who visited the polling districts of Puttlam and Vanni, last week, to look into allegation that more than 7,000 voters in the  polling division of Mannar were to be struck off the electoral register, said that electors were unaware of the electoral register revision process. He called upon the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to educate the public on what actually is taking place; he urged the political parties not to capitalise on the situation. 

 Additional Commissioner of Elections Rasika Pieris said that electoral registers had been revised annually in accordance with the Registration of Electors Act 44 of 1980 to make voting more convenient to the electors by assigning them to the polling stations closest to residences.

 Pieris added that in addition to convenience there were many more advantages to be registered as an elector in the district one resides in.

 Retired Irrigation Engineer A. L. Burhanudhdheen is a chief occupant that has received the Revision of Electoral Register Notice sent by the Assistant Election Commissioner, Mannar. 

Burhanudhdeen had been a resident of Akaththimurippu, Mannar until being driven out by the LTTE in 1990. After being displaced he took refuge in Puttalam and at present lives in a modest house at Nagavillu, Puttlam.

 Burhanudhdeen said that he visited his property in Mannar whenever it was possible, but was unable to construct a new house there due to financial constraints. He also said that whenever possible he and his family had exercised their right to vote in the polling district of Mannar up to the 2020 Parliamentary election. At the last presidential election they had been provided with transport while the Election Commission arranged for a cluster voting facility in Puttlam for the last Parliamentary election, he said.

 Voicing his fears Burhanudhdeen said that he and his family might be struck off the electoral register in Mannar if their appeal was not accepted and added that they had not registered as voters of the Electoral District of Puttalam even though they were resident there.

Assistant Commissioner of Elections Mannar J. Jeniton said that taking action based on reports submitted by Grama Seva Niladharis nearly 10,000 revisions of election register notices had been sent by registered post to electors in the Mannar polling division. 

Jeniton said that the majority of them were known to be persons who were forced to flee from their homes in 1990 due to the conflict. It had been found that they were not resident in that area, he added.

 Jeniton said that about 700 persons had been requested to attend the inquiries and bring with them documents to prove their residence, but only 15 persons had been present.

 Chairman of the Musalee Pradeshiya Sabha A.G.H. Subeeham said that 3,542 constituents in Musalee had been served with Revision of Electoral Register notices requesting them to explain why their names should not be struck off the electoral register. Subeeham said that he did not understand the basis on which the list had been compiled as even persons who had been resident in Musalee for the past 10 years had received such notices. He appealed to the authorities to give the IDPs a grace period of two years to resettle.

The polling districts of Mannar, Mulaitivu and Vavuniya make up the Vanni Electoral District and six Members of Parliament represent the District.

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