Plantation workers strike over wages
[TamilNet, Thursday, 05 February 1998, 23:59 GMT]
Three plantation based trade unions, whose 600,000 strong members downed tools today, rejected the Employer's Federation of Ceylon (EFC) offer to increase the wage from 83 rupees (USD 1.34) per day to 100 rupees (USD 1.61), said trade union sources in Colombo.
The concession by the EFC comes after weeks of negotiation where the trade unions' demand for a 105 rupees (USD 1.69) per day was resisted by employers.
The EFC, which earlier fixed the daily wage at 93 rupees, offered to increase it to 95 rupees and grant an extra five rupees depending on the price tea fetches in the market. This is known as a wage-price bonus scheme.
The trade unions walked out of the meeting today after rejecting the wage-price scheme as a fraud and insisting that they be granted their original demand of 105 rupees.
The trade unions, comprising the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC), Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) and Joint Plantation Trade Union Committee (JPUTC) are agreed that they will not negotiate with the EFC individually, making it difficult for the employers to exploit any fissures that might arise in the ranks of the unions.
Meanwhile, the plantation management companies are worried that a prolonged strike by the unions could be detrimental to the tea trade.
They believe that if the strike continues beyond three weeks, it could mean an artificial increase of tea prices in the world market, and international demand moving away from Sri Lanka to other sources of supply.
The management companies believe that though they might be able to offer an upward revision of the wage today, they might not be able to sustain this if tea prices fall in the international market. Hence they believe that part of the wage hike should be tied to prices, and regulated depending on what tea fetches in the market.
The plantations have been a millstone around the neck of the Sri Lanka Government (SLG) after their managements were privatised to increase efficiency. But both the private managers and the SLG, which privatised the estate in keeping with World Bank policy, have had to contend with regular, organised worker agitation for better wages, housing and employment conditions.
The management companies have protested that with regular demands for better wages etc., they are not in a position to show profits. The cause of the estate workers has been championed by veteran trade unionist and parliamentarian S. Thondaman who has held influential portfolios in successive governments.
Referring to the trade union demand of 105 rupees, Thondaman said, "It is the minimum demand that cannot be ignored."