Estate workers demand higher wages

tea-pluckersThousands of Indian origin Tamils, employed in Sri Lanka’s famed tea estates, are on protest for a week now, demanding higher wages.

They are asking for a daily wage of LKR 1,000 (around Rs. 450), which estate owners have deemed high, citing the current “risk-prone” business environment.

The estate workers’ wages were due for revision last year, after a prior collective wage agreement expired in March 2015. However, over a year after the agreement — signed by employers and workers — expired, wages are yet to increase, protesting workers point out.

As per the 2013 agreement, the daily wage of an estate worker is LKR 620 (about Rs. 280), including EPF, ETF and an incentive linked to the number of days of labour.

Independent protest

Leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance and Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages, Mano Ganesan, on Tuesday said the protests were independent and spontaneous, and reflected the plight of the estate workers. “This is a historically oppressed community that has toiled in the estates for the country’s prosperity. Their demands should not be ignored,” he said in a press conference.

Nearly 9 lakh Tamils of recent Indian origin live in Sri Lanka, largely in the country’s Central and Uva Provinces. According to government records, over two lakh people constitute the labour force employed in the tea estates.

Till date, most of them live in line rooms constructed over a hundred years ago, when the British brought them down from India to work in the plantations.

Tea is Sri Lanka’s second largest export commodity, accounting for about 13 per cent of total export earnings. However in 2015, export earnings from tea declined significantly by 17.7 per cent to $1.34 billion.

It was the lowest value in five years, according to the Central Bank’s annual report, which attributed the decline to changes in the global economy. (The Hindu)

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