Plantation sector wages issue: Digambaram threatens to quit Govt | Sunday Observer

Plantation sector wages issue: Digambaram threatens to quit Govt

Palany Digambaram
Palany Digambaram

Leader of the Upcountry People’s Front (UPF), one of the three constituents of the TPA (Tamil Progressive Alliance), and State Minister of Special Areas Development, Velusamy Radhakrishnan told the Sunday Observer that they attended talks with the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) on the request of the government and since the RPCs were not willing to grant an upward revision of the basic wage of Rs.700 agreed to under the Collective Agreement (CA), they now looked up to the government to provide redress to the workers. He said that Plantation Industries Minister Naveen Dissanayake had suggested the provision of relief to the workers through grants of some kind under the Budget.

Government ally, the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) that held two rounds of talks with the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) last week at the Prime Minister’s office on revising the basic wage of Rs.700, agreed upon in the previous week between Unions and the RPCs, had expressed dismay that the RPCs were not willing to budge.

Meanwhile, Minister of Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development, Palany Digambaram, the leader of the National Union of Workers (NUW), one of the three constituents of the TPA, was quoted in news reports in a Tamil-language daily as saying that they would wait only three more days, depending on the government gesture, to decide on whether or not to remain in the alliance of the UNF government.

All six parliamentarians representing the TPA would take a unanimous decision, he was quoted as saying at a meeting of plantation workers in Hatton, a town in the tea production hub.

The CA that was signed on January 28, 2019 between the RPCs and two of the three major plantation unions, the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) led by Arumugan Thondaman MP and the pro-UNP Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union (LJEWU) represented by State Minister of Plantation Industries Vadivel Suresh. One Union abstained.

Consequently, the CA was put on hold and was not published in the government gazette on the directions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after the TPA protested against the low wage increase agreed to.

The Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre (JPTUC) abstained from signing the CA because they disagreed with the low wage increase and removal of some clauses from the CA.

State Minister Vadivel Suresh told the Sunday Observer that they have requested the government to provide relief to the workers through price subsidies on essential food items for them to cope with the rising cost of living. Under the new CA, the Attendance Allowance (AA) of Rs. 60 and Productivity Incentive (PI) of Rs.140 which were supplementary payments to the basic wage of Rs. 500 under the previous CA, were merely added up to the basic wage under the new agreement, making it Rs.700 and supplemented by the Rs.50 Price Share Supplement (PSS).

General Secretary of the JPTUC, S. Ramanathan told the Sunday Observer that non-payment of the Attendance Allowance and the Productivity Incentive as supplementary payments in addition to the basic wage would further discourage the workers from attending work regularly and would contribute to a further drop in productivity. Therefore, all stakeholders to the CA should take this into consideration while revising the CA in the future, he said.

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