Civil society bodies urge PM to heed workers’ wage demand | Sunday Observer

Civil society bodies urge PM to heed workers’ wage demand

Two organisations - ORUMEE, an umbrella organisation of 10 civil society organisations and the Human Development Organisation (HDO) in Kandy have submitted representations to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe requesting that the government take ssteps to grant Rs.1,000 as the basic wage of plantation workers considering their financial straits and the rising cost of living.

The unions, representing the workers, should not be allowed under any circumstances to step down from the Rs.1,000 demand and sign the CA for a lower wage, they have stated in their representation.

Rev.Fr.M.Sakthivel, coordinator of the ORUMEE told the Sunday Observer that the plantation sector had a workforce of 350,000 when it was handed over to the RPCs but the current workforce 160,000 less than half the original strength mainly due to the failure on the part of the management companies to offer an attractive wage increase to the workers while also not contributing adequately to the promotion of the industry.

He said that under the CA, the workers are being handed over to the companies on a two-year labour agreement. While workers are progressively deserting the industry, no new workforce is inclined to enter it, he pointed out.

The wage issue is not only a remuneration issue but it is an existential issue so long as the plantation workers are concerned, he said.

The representation submitted by HDO (which is also an umbrella organisation of several civil society organisations) was endorsed by senior Human Rights Lawyer K.S.Ratnavel, Executive Director of the Center for Policy Alternatives Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Human Rights Lawyer Lakshan Dias and others, according to HR Lawyer Ratnvel.

Vice President of the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) S. Arulsamy told the Sunday Observer that they are meeting the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC), representing the 22 Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) at their headquarters in Rajagiriya on Tuesday for another round of talks on the wage issue of plantation workers.

The CWC and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre (JPTUC) are the other two unions that are signatories to the CA. Both the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union (LJEWU) and the JPTUC have been invited for the talks, Arulsamy said.

The plantation workers’ wage issue continues to remain unsettled two months and three weeks after the expiry the last biennial Collective Agreement (CA) on October 15 last year and the one month long general strike by the workers, wide-spread protest demonstrations, encompassing several parts of the country and the several rounds of unsuccessful talks between trade unions and the employers.

State Minister of Plantation Industries Vadivel Suresh who is the General Secretary of the LJEWU, one of the three unions that are signatories to the CA, told the Sunday Observer that his Ministry, under directions from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, is holding discussions with Labour, Trade Union Relations and Social Empowerment Minister Daya Gamage and other stakeholders, in a renewed effort to secure the Rs.1,000 basic wage demand of workers. He said that the next round of talks is scheduled to be held early next week.

The RPCs at their last round of talks with the plantation TUs offered to raise the basic wage of workers to Rs.600 with conditional payments such as productivity incentive (Rs.140) , attendance bonus (Rs.80) and price share supplement (Rs.30) to make the maximum daily wage to a ceiling of Rs.850 which the TUs rejected.

Under the last CA, the basic wage was Rs.500 with the conditional payments of productivity incentive(Rs.140), attendance bonus (Rs.60) and price share supplement (Rs.30) offering a maximum daily wage to a ceiling of Rs.730.