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‘Stronger Together’ : Collaboration for the future of Sri Lanka’s plantation sector

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21st May 2021 – The ceremonial auction of Wisdom in the Leaf in March 2021 brought the now silent Colombo tea auction room alive with tea growers, brokers and buyers united in their support for the sustainable future of Ceylon Tea. A part of Dilmah Tea’s History of Ceylon Tea https://www.historyofceylontea.com/ initiative, the book is a compendium of the knowledge of veteran Sri Lankan planters. Its objective is to record centuries of combined expertise as a guide for present and future planters. The monies raised would support a programme of empowerment for plantation workers & their families, spanning education, health, entrepreneurship and the environment.

The auction raised Rs. 2.3 million which was matched twice over by Dilmah’s MJF Charitable Foundation as part of its 3 year – Rs. 300 Million initiative to support communities in the estate sector. The funds committed are already at work to support the plantation community with the prospect of several other plantation entities joining the effort.

Named ‘Stronger Together’, the parallel initiative was accompanied by an invitation to all plantation companies in Sri Lanka to collaborate in enhancing the quality of life for plantation communities. The elements of the programme include healthcare and education, livelihood support, skills training, psychosocial and family support and also focuses on strengthening dialogue and amongst stakeholders to bring positive and sustainable change. Programmes commenced days after the event with several regional plantation companies expected to subscribe to the effort.

The Champions Forum is a key component, with representatives from every estate along with neighbouring plantations will be trained to identify common issues, propose possible solutions and be equipped in developing them in their own communities. These will include social, economic, environmental themes involving workers and estate staff in understanding and resolving issues that impact life on the estates. The ‘champions’ will then roll out the training sessions within their own community and raise awareness to establish community led solutions.

Another component addresses the expectations of youth in the communities connected to plantations. Young people remain unemployed on the plantations relying on family support while others who had migrated in search of employment have been forced to return to their homes due to the economic impact of the pandemic. Workshops offering relevant and practical skills through a variety of programmes are aimed at increasing their employability in sustainable agriculture, tourism, or other vocations.

Dilmah’s MJF Foundation has initiated a collaboration that aims to address reproductive health issues including access to local and affordable sanitary napkins and improved welfare infrastructure for the women of the tea gardens. Other initiatives target ongoing programmes designed to address the hardship of the pandemic. These include scholarships, study support, child care, nutrition and emergency relief in the form of food and hygiene materials so that communities that are quarantined or impacted by the pandemic are better supported.

These initiatives fulfil Teamaker, Merrill J. Fernando’s desire to make business a matter of human service and echo similar sentiments that were voiced by industry veterans Anselm Perera and Rohan Fernando.

Over the years, the Dilmah Founder’s MJF Foundation has worked to improve the lives of many in the plantations. With a focus on empowering individuals through entrepreneurship livelihoods, climate resilience and environmental sustainability are key to the Stronger Together initiative. The programme was delayed by a surge of COVID infections and resulting travel limitations but currently operates on 48 estates, benefitting more than 15,500 families.

The plantation sector in Sri Lanka continues to face challenges although most stakeholders agree that with the impact of the pandemic, a collaborative and sustainable approach to social and economic issues is essential. The Stronger Together initiative aims to foster that collaboration, and build stronger foundations to sustain the industry in the 21st century.



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Debt-ridden CEB goes ahead with shocking pay hike amidst pandemic

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Workers offered 25% increase this year…12% annually over three-year period
 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two days after the Presidential Secretariat stated that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) owed two state banks––Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank, a staggering Rs 85 bn, the cash-strapped enterprise announced an annual 12 percent salary increase to its employees.

Vijitha Herath, Chairman, of the CEB, yesterday (15) said that the salary increase in terms of the collective agreement for 2021-2023 period would enable the workers to receive 25 per cent in the first year whereas annually it would be 12 percent over a period of three years.

The ministry said that in spite of severe difficulties caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic, the salary increment was granted in response to workers’ request.

Declaring that the Cabinet and the Board of Directors of the CEB had approved the salary increase, the ministry has sought cooperation of the CEB trade unions to finalise the collective agreement.

The ministry claimed that CEB workers had been granted a spate of privileges not given to other state sector employees hence consensus on collective agreement was expected soon.

The Presidential Secretariat on Sunday explained that one reason for the banking sector crisis was the failure on the part of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the CEB to settle Rs 562 bn and Rs 85 bn, respectively.

The Presidential Secretariat issued the statement in the wake of SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, triggering a political storm by demanding Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s immediate resignation over recent increase in fuel prices.

The CEB Chairman also claimed that they had been able to bring down the accumulated losses to Rs 56 bn last year from Rs 97 bn in the previous year.

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Indian fishers riled by SL moves to create new fish breeding grounds

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

 

Fishermen from Rameswaran will hold a protest today (16) against Sri Lanka’s decision to submerge 20 old buses in the seas off Jaffna to create breeding grounds for fish.

Members of 17 fisheries associations in Tamil Nadu and Rameswaran claim that this will affect their yield as more fish will be attracted to the breeding grounds created by submerged buses.

The Ministry said that sinking those buses was nothing new and that such buses provided a hard surface for invertebrates to live on, some of which could not live on the sand bottom that is naturally there.

“Some fish are not fast swimmers, so they need a structure to provide both food and shelter; they wouldn’t, for example, be able to outswim a shark, but they could duck into the shelter instead,” a Sri Lankan fisheries association representative said.

However N. Devadas, the head of the Indian fishermen’s association in Rameswaram, said that they would also hand over a petition against that decision to the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka has been submerging old SLTB buses in the deep sea for many years as a part of the Deep Sea Fish Development Project.

 

 

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Three more weeks needed to see drop in COVID deaths – Dr. Fernandopulle

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It would take at least three more weeks to see a drop in COVID-19 related deaths in the country, Minister of COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle said yesterday.

There had been a drop in the number of cases reported already, she said.

“The number of patients is coming down but there has been an increase in deaths. However, this too will come down.

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