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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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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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