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How to pay more than Rs. 1,000 per day to tea estate workers

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by Remy Jayasekere, Chartered Engineer

In the recent past there have been several articles written opposing the government decision to increase the wages of tea estate workers. On November 21, the Island newspaper published an article titled “Tea industry experts willing to learn the magic formula …” written by a spokesman for the Planters’ Association. Its theme was that under the present conditions it is not possible to increase wages.

There is a 1,000 acre tea plantation called Nerada in far north Queensland in Australia (neradatea.com.au). It produces 6.6 million kg of leaf and 1.6 million kg of made tea annually. Total labour force is less than 50 and the factory is manned by four people in a shift. The minimum hourly wage in Australia is about AUD 20 or around SLR 2,500 which works out to SLR 20,000 for an eight-hour day. Nerada pays above minimum wages so that they can retain talent.

Leaf plucking is done by one machine for the whole plantation – therefore there is only one tea plucker at any time and plucking is a 24-hour operation. The plantation is family-owned and they have developed all the technology themselves – no Tea Research Institutes or Tea Boards.

If Nerada can pay SLR 20,000 per person per day why can’t Sri Lanka pay SLR 1,000 per day? The answer is simple – at Nerada 50 people produce 1.6 million kg of made tea annually which works out to 32,000 kg per person annually. This is worth about AUD 150,000. Pay the worker AUD 50,000 per year and the company has AUD 100,000 per person per year for other things.

This has been achieved through innovation which has resulted in mechanisation and automation of processes. SL has not innovated, continuing to do things the way they have been done for ages. This could be the net result of many decisions taken in the past such as nationalisation of the plantations, regional plantation companies (RPC) not owning the plantations, therefore milking them rather than developing them and general backwardness of the country in developing and employing modern technology.

RPCs have managed the plantations for more than 25 years and if they are interested in developing the plantations, they had ample time to do so. However, they have chosen to remain in the dark ages without any innovative thinking and actions and now are arguing against wage increases. SLR 1,000 is around USD six per day which is not much higher than the extreme poverty level defined by the UN. The actions of the government, the plantation companies and the planters have made sure the workers remained in poverty during the past and now want to ensure that continues into the future.

In the 1980s Singapore had the problem of being turned into a large garment manufacturing centre which they did not want. The government increased the wages of garment factory workers – the message was innovate and produce more per worker or close down. History shows they all closed down and engaged in other pursuits. The Sri Lankan government should be congratulated for taking this bold step of increasing wages – the message is clear, innovate or we will change the agreements. How can you let the RPCs hold a large proportion of the population as well as the economy of the country hostage.

What is stopping us from using a company such as Nerada as the benchmark and trying to achieve what they have achieved. Let me list a few steps.

1. Green leaf – Nerada produces 6600 kg per acre per year. Considering it is one plantation, as a country can we aim for at least half of that. I am sure everyone knows what to do – the list is long. Definition of innovation – 5% is knowing what to do and 95% is doing it.

2. Plucking – This possibly is the highest cost item in the production of tea in Sri Lanka. Two excuses are given for not mechanising plucking – the terrain does not allow for mechanised plucking and mechanised plucking reduces the yield. New replanting areas should have the terrain modified to enable mechanised plucking. The myth of reduced yield does not stand against evidence from Nerada

3. Factory – There are more than 700 tea factories in Sri Lanka employing large numbers of people. Factories in some areas cannot find enough people to man them. Most of these people are used for transporting material from one process or machine to another and in some cases to watch and operate machines. At Nerada all these operations are automated and only four people are required in a shift. Why not scrap the existing factories and build new ones – the payback will be very quick. One of the big problems in the past was trying to modify existing factories which limits possibilities. Do not think outside the box. Think there is no box.

4. Then there are other minor things that go beyond what Nerada has done – using solar energy for the driers and using dehumidified air for withering. Nerada has no need for producing dehumidified air as the humidity in that area is very low.

5. The workers cannot do anything about these. The government, RPCs and management have to take the initiative to improve our plantations. There are no bad soldiers – only bad officers

I believe I have made a case for increasing wages of plantation workers and hope the RPCs will look at this in a positive manner.



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Uber contributed LKR 81 billion to Sri Lanka’s economy in 2021: Report

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Uber’s 2021 Sri Lanka Economic Impact Report, compiled by Public First, a UK based policy research firm, was launched at an event in the national capital. The report highlights how Uber and Uber Eats have helped transform the on-demand economy for consumers, drivers and delivery-partners, and the wider community by generating LKR 81 billion for the Sri Lankan economy in 2021.

Uber’s Senior Director for Public Policy & Government Relations for the Asia Pacific region, Mike Orgill; Uber’s Director of Regional Operations for India and South Asia region, Shiva Shailendran, along with Uber Sri Lanka’s leadership team members, including Ms. Bhavna Dadlani Jayawardana, Country Manager, Uber Eats; and, Ms. Thanushika Sivanathan, Country Manager, Uber Rides graced the occasion.

Commenting on the report, Mike Orgill, Senior Director, Public Policy & Government Relations, APAC at Uber, said: “Uber has been an important engine of economic growth and opportunity in Sri Lanka since 2015, but we never knew the extent of our contribution. This research shows for the first time the impact on drivers and delivery partners, consumers and the economy as a whole. It reaffirms the importance of flexible work opportunities and spotlights how expanded mobility options and choice as part of the on-demand economy have created critical value for the Sri Lankan economy. It makes our resolve stronger than ever before to continue working for the community and deploying our technology and global expertise to contribute to Sri Lanka’s growth.”

The report takes a deeper look into the factors behind this economic contribution and the enhancement of safety and sustainability of the industry. It highlights how both Uber and Uber Eats have continually evolved to meet changing needs, used technology to save time, helped expand mobility options and choice, supported small businesses, and provided flexible earning opportunities for thousands of drivers and delivery-partners in Sri Lanka.

Key findings of the report include:

Uber’s contribution to the Sri Lankan economy

Uber and Uber Eats created an estimated LKR 81 billion in economic value for the Sri Lankan economy

Together, Uber (27 bn) and Uber Eats (25 bn) produced LKR 52 billion in consumer surplus in 2021, which is equivalent to 0.3% of the country’s GDP.

On-demand services boosted small business recovery

Uber Eats encouraged Sri Lankans to support local restaurants and merchants which they would otherwise not have had access to, leading to LKR 2.1 billion in additional revenue and a gross impact of LKR 51 billion for the Sri Lankan economy as a whole.

88% of Uber Eats users agree that food delivery apps made it easier to discover new restaurants.

74% of users have ordered from restaurants they had never tried before.

Drivers and delivery people value flexibility

In 2021, we estimate that drivers made an additional LKR 775 million a year in earnings through Uber, or an average of 27% more than their next best alternative.

Consumer behavior helped to drive innovation

Consumers are prioritizing convenience and reliability, with Uber estimated to save riders in Sri Lanka over 3.7 million hours a year leaving more time for family and friends.

On average, Uber riders saved 9 minutes per trip compared to the next best alternative, leaving more time for family and friends.

Uber and Uber Eats produced LKR 52 billion in consumer surplus* for Sri Lankans in 2021.

Uber’s trackable point-to-point transport solutions are helping to fill the inevitable gaps in public transport, with 1 in 7 trips taken with the Uber app connecting with public transport.

Safety is a top reason for choosing the platform with 96% of female riders saying that safety is an important factor in their choice to use the Uber app.

Having access to sustainable ride-sharing platforms encouraged users to not own a vehicle.

According to Sri Lankan riders, ridesharing is the most significant transport innovation they have experienced in the last decade.

* One of the most important measures of economic welfare – the amount you would pay someone to voluntarily give up a good or service. If a good has a zero-consumer surplus, that implies we can take or leave it – whereas goods with a high consumer surplus are playing an important role in our lives.

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Selling in Expolanka Holdings drags down market; S and P SL20 drops over 5 per cent

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

The CSE fell over 2 per cent in mid-day trade yesterday dragged down by market heavy weight, Expolanka Holdings, on falling freight rates globally and the revision of fuel prices in the domestic market. Accordingly, most stocks declined by more than five percent at the end of the day’s trading, stock market analysts said.

Market participants said indices were dragged down on selling in Expolanka, as global freight prices fell, while foreign buying in shares slowed down. However, business sentiments were not impaired because macroeconomic fundamentals of the country are getting better under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, market analysts claimed.

The market began on a negative note and in the middle of the session, the circuit- breaker was triggered and trading halted for 30 minutes. The S and P SL20 index dropped over five per cent. When trading resumed around 10: 41 am, the market showed some recovery but was unable to sustain its momentum until the end of the day’s trading, market analysts added.

Amid those developments the main All- Share Price Index plunged 412 points and the S and P SL20 declined by 153 points. Turnover stood at Rs 4.54 billion with three crossings. Those crossings were reported in Dankotuwa Porcelain, which crossed 8.1 million shares to the tune of Rs 203 million, its shares traded at Rs 25, LOLC Finance 23.8 million shares crossed for Rs 200 million, its shares traded at Rs 8.40 and CIC Holdings 700,000 shares crossed for Rs.56.7 million, its shares fetched Rs 81.

In the retail market top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Lanka IOC Rs 1.2 billion (5.7 million shares traded), Expolanka Holdings Rs 448 million (2.5 million shares traded), ACL Cables Rs 273 million (2.7 million shares traded), JKH Rs 139 million (one million shares traded), CIC Holdings Rs 93.8 million (1.2 million shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 92.3 million (13.2 million shares traded) and Lankem Development Rs 81 million (2.5 million shares traded). During the day 188 million share volumes changed hands in 42000 share transactions.

Yesterday, net foreign purchasing stood at was Rs 62 million and net foreign selling was reportedly Rs 41 million. Therefore, net foreign inflows amounted to Rs 21.5 million in the stock market. Further, according to external media reports, foreigners are now interested in buying into Sri Lankan rupee bonds, in conjunction with the market’s recovery, stock analysts said.

During the day, US and European stock markets appreciated despite there being an economic recession and inflationary worries.

Yesterday, the Central Bank- announced US dollar buying rate was Rs 359.16 and its selling rate Rs. 369.91.

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SLT-MOBITEL triumphs as Joint Champions at 3rd Maliban – MCA Annual Masters Cricket ‘Sixes’ 2022

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Left to right (SLT Cricket Team): Suranga Wijayarathne, Sadun Wijayarathne, Sudam Jayawardena, W.A. Samantha, H.P. Chaminda, Nadeepa Niroshan, Dinush Wijewickrama (Team Manager), Chandika Sirimanne (Captain), Jagath Siriwardhana, Harsha Weerasinghe (Coach), Namal Dissanayake

The SLT fielded team triumphed as Joint Champions with the HNB ‘A’ team at the 3rd Maliban – MCA Annual Masters Cricket ‘Sixes’ 2022, held at the MCA Grounds recently.

In the League stage, SLT beat Colombo Dockyard and Singer Sri Lanka PLC. Overcoming stiff opposition from Sampath Bank, the 2020 Winners, SLT reached the semi-finals.

However, due to bad light at the Final match, organizers decided to declare SLT and 2020 Runner-up HNB ‘A’ team, the Joint Winners of the 3rd Maliban – MCA Annual Masters Cricket ‘Sixes’ 2022.

For this year’s tournament, 15 teams pooled into 05 groups. Matches were played at Royal College and MCA Grounds.

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