Estate Workers Move Into Other Areas Of Employment
By Hafsa Sabry
The World Bank research suggests that the younger generation of estate Tamils seems to have little interest in employment in the plantation sector.
Although, they undergo problems when finding jobs in urbanised areas, those wanting to move out has recorded an increase between 2003 and 2012 and within the age group of 15 -24 years.
In the meantime, the average annual rate of change or growth was about -4% for the age group of 15-19 years and around -1% for the age group of 20-24 years.
Whilst youth are moving out of the sector to Colombo with no proper education, the employers fail to offer jobs as they do not possess the necessary requirements. Hence, they are employed as drivers, factory workers, shop assistants or construction workers which pay them a better salary than the plantation sector.
A few of them are able to secure jobs as semi-skilled workers, such as drivers or mechanics. The scope in professional, salaried occupations is not easily available for such entities, as they lack the necessary academic skills to handle such jobs.
Nevertheless, the World Bank study also indicates that the youth have partial higher education as 50% of the youth in the age group between 15 – 20 years have only undergone primary education. The figures also revealed that 66% of the children who fail to have proper education against the country’s average of 49% is recorded from the hill country.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, President of the Ceylon Workers Congress C W C Muththu Sivalingam said “Opportunities for them are available in the services sector such as retail stores and communication centers other than the estate plantation sector.”
“They are also facing stigmatisation and discrimination due to their Indian Tamil ethnicity and estate worker identity, both of which constitute a barrier in accessing non-estate job opportunities,” he added.
There are currently 60,000 youth between the age group of 15-30 years who are engaged in the plantation sector and the amount will be reduced in the coming years as a result of the rapid ‘moving out’ process. The CWC is currently working to help the estate Indian Tamils pursue primary education as some of the families in the plantation sector have reportedly failed to send their children into schools due to the economic problems of the families.
However, the trade union conducts several awareness programmes for the parents in the plantation sector to show them the importance of the future of their children and the role education plays in their lives. However, whilst some of them are adamant in sending their children for higher education, others prefer to have them working in the plantation sector.
There are service centers that will help the young generation of the estate Tamils to get better employment. These centers train the youth on several sectors such as tailoring.
Nonetheless, when comparing the education level of the female population and the male population, females do far better and are employed in the estate offices and in the management departments and seldom as workers. There is no lack of facilities in the schools in the hill country as they are also part of the country and given free education and the facilities that a government could offer but the parents should be educated of the importance of education, Sivalingam further stated.
The CWC also helps the labour population of the estate Tamils who are employed in Colombo and the Western Province as well. A number of employers who failed to pay salaries were contacted and the issues were sorted, claimed Sivalingam.
On the other hand, the estate workers are also provided salary increments every year based on their performances, but this year they were not given a salary increment as the market for Sri Lankan tea has reportedly reduced due to political activities. In the meantime, in contrast to the falling number in youth in the plantations, the share of senior citizens aged 60 years and above went up by 8%, annually on an average. The younger generation could move out but the senior people will have no alternate options for employment, hence they tend to work in the estates for a living unil they retire.
However J. Sri Ranga, former Member of Parliament told The Sunday Leader that this issue should be addressed by the relevant politicians of the provincial education departments and by the government. He said that the young generation should be encouraged to move into professional employment whereas they do not pursue their higher education. Even though, several members of the estate Tamils took to office in the ministry as state ministers of education, during the recent past, the issue is yet to be addressed and to be arrived at a sustainable solution as they are concerned only about votes, but not about the people of their community, he alleged.
“The government should look into this matter as a national issue and not as a local issue to develop the life styles of the hill country people. Many research studies claim that Sri Lanka is the first in education among the South Asian countries, but the Nuwara Eliya district is considered as the last with a small percent of the younger generation pursuing just primary education,” he added.
The responsible persons who were voted into the parliament by the estate Tamils should consider this issue, and a provide a sustainable solution to resolve the issue and ensure that the abandoned youth of the plantations sector are given a better future.