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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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HNB promotes cashless transactions; joins CBSL’s ‘Rata Purama LANKAQR’ campaign

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Chief Guest for the event Money and Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal, CBSL Deputy Governor and National Payments Council chairperson Yvette Fernando, and CBSL Payments and Settlements Director D. Kumaratunge with HNB Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Dilshan Rodrigo as he completes a transaction via HNB SOLO at a merchant stall

HNB PLC, partnered with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to promote the Colombo-leg of ‘Rata Purama LANKA QR’ campaign at Diyatha Uyana, to raise awareness and encourage the public towards cashless payments.

Having already linked LANKA QR to its digital payment app HNB SOLO, the bank was among other financial institutions and telecommunication partners in joining efforts to make cashless QR-code based payments the standard for mobile phones and digital payments countrywide, in moving towards a cashless and digitally-savvy Sri Lanka.

“We are entering a new era of financial technology, where almost all of our daily transactions will require no physical banknotes, but just a smartphone and internet connection with our bank account integrated to a digital payment app.

The Central Bank’s national directive for banks and financial institutions to adopt and integrate LANKA QR into their existing digital payment solutions has prompted an aggressive onboarding of merchants to the new payment solution across the country. With our extensive customer base, SOLO is no doubt a significant contributor to this innovative initiative,” HNB Deputy General Manager – Retail and SME Banking, Sanjay Wijemanne said.

The Colombo-leg of the ‘Rata Purama LANKA QR’ campaign raised awareness regarding SOLO’s many facilities, including zero human interaction, efficiency, and eliminated risks that influenced many vendors to come on board.

 

(HNB)

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Bank of Ceylon empowering nation with Lanka Q

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The Bank of Ceylon in its mission to assist the government initiative to empower Sri Lanka through digital technology is joining the customer awareness campaign of Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s Lanka QR digital platform.

Bank of Ceylon had its most recent major awareness programs in Borella and Maharagama along with the other branches in Colombo District in line with the Central Bank’s main program held in “Diyatha Uyana” with the participation of all Lanka QR certified banks on the same day.

Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) has organized a series of awareness and promotion campaigns for popularizing Lanka QR with the participation of all Lanka QR certified financial institutions throughout the country with the aim of speeding up the customer adaptation process towards digital banking.

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Sri Lanka Insurance posts a staggering revenue of Rs. 55.2 billion during 2020

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Amidst the turbulent and challenging year Sri Lanka Insurance has closed year 2020 on a positive note recording phenomenal revenue growth with exceptional service innovations.

Sri Lanka Insurance the premier insurer to the nation recorded stellar performance in 2020 to record Rs. 55.2 billion revenue for the year, a marked improvement on the Rs.48.6 billion in the year 2019, a press release said.

It adds – In the year of 2020 Sri Lanka Insurance reported 30 % growth in life insurance premium increasing to Rs.19.2 billion whilst general insurance reported 7% growth in premium grew to Rs. 20.1 billion. The company achieved a combined Gross Written Premium (GWP) growth rate of 17 % during the year. General insurance contributed 51% towards the total GWP whilst Life Insurance contributed 49 %.

‘In continuing with its tradition of leadership, Sri Lanka Insurance in 2020 surpassed its own record to declare a sum of Rs.8.2 billion as bonus to policyholders. The cumulative life insurance bonus paid out during the past 10 years tops a massive Rs.54 billion making the SLIC bonus payout unmatchable.

‘As the national insurer we have witnessed yet another challenging year and the consequences brought out by pandemic outbreak urged us to conduct our business operations in a more empathetic manner. SLIC has always taken the lead to protect the nation and during this difficult time Sri Lanka Insurance launched many initiatives to sustain country’s health defenses while ensuring our customers receive uninterrupted insurance service.

‘As the pioneering insurance company in Sri Lanka we are in the forefront to inculcate the importance of insurance to the masses as a national responsibility on our shoulders. We will further strengthen internal capabilities to serve the nation through innovative and affordable insurance solutions which cater to all Sri Lankans under the ‘Insurance for All” concept. Even though the times are defining we will continue protecting our nation turning obstacles into opportunities.’ noted .Jagath Wellawatta, chairman of SLIC.

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