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Rumblings On Plantation Workers’ Wage Hike

By Camelia Nathaniel

The recent plantation sector wage hike has run into trouble with the Plantation Trade Union Federation (PTUF) saying that estate workers are struggling to survive, as they are being paid far less than even an unskilled labourer.

Plantation companies have flatly rejected a further hike saying that doing so would result in the companies facing bankruptcy.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, President PTUF and leader of the Democratic People’s Front (DPF) Mano Ganesan said plantation workers are not paid a monthly salary and they are paid on a daily wage system.

“The current wage components agreed in the agreement are these: Basic wage Rs 450, price wage allowance Rs 30, attendance allowance Rs 140 and the total is Rs 620. ETF/EPF are paid on the basic wage only. Rs 620 is only the theoretical salary. Our surveys have found that only about 25% of the workers receive the attendance allowance. You have to work at least 75%, that is about 19 days per month, to receive the attendance allowance. Even if these workers fail by half a day, they lose the attendance allowance for the days they have already worked for as well. It is a trick where the CWC and LJEWU have agreed with the employers. Most of the workers are getting only Rs 450+Rs 30, that is Rs 480 per day. The employers are of the view that the attendance allowance would encourage workers to report for work. But it is working in a rather negative way,” he said.

The PTUF therefore suggests alternative proposals for changing the components of the salary structure without changing the total. “We demand a basic wage of Rs 520, price wage allowance Rs 30, attendance allowance Rs 70 with the total still at Rs 620. ETF/EPF paid to the basic wage.

This way the worker would be encouraged to report to work. We have the interest of the industry also at heart. But the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and the UNP affiliated Lanka Jathika Estate workers Union (LJEWU) not only betrayed the workers, but also misled the Employers Federation. There was no proper discussion. It was all over in just four days,” Ganesan claimed.

In response to the allegations raised by the PTUF, Deputy Director General Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EPC), Kanishka Weerasinghe, claims the collective agreement has been signed on 2 April between the three unions that represent the majority of the estate workers, and agreed upon the current wage of Rs 450.00 as the basic daily wage. “In addition to the basic wage they are given an attendance allowance of Rs 140.00 and price share supplement and many other benefits,” he added.

According to Weerasinghe, the recent wage revision for the estate workers, has put tremendous pressure on the employers who themselves are struggling to survive. He said that tea and rubber prices have taken a plunge and in spite of the decrease in revenue, they had agreed on the wage increase this year. He said that the last wage increase is costing the plantation companies around five billion rupees annually, which they are already finding difficult to bear.

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