Roshan Rajadurai | Muthu Sivalingam

Sri Lanka’s Regional Plantation Companies (RPC) say that the ongoing go-slow token action by workers had resulted in a loss of at least 84 percent in daily productivity and a staggering daily loss of Rs.130 million.

Chairman, Planters Association of Ceylon (PA), Roshan Rajadurai told The Nation Gain that the RPCs produced nearly 8 million kilograms of made tea every month and added that daily production had dropped drastically by over 80 percent and warned that the recovery process would take months.

According to Rajadurai, the RPCs produce approximately 320,000 kilograms of made tea daily. “A laborer usually plucks around 16 to 18 kilogram of tea leaves per day. This had dropped to around 4 kilogram or less,” he said. “We can’t pay them for such low productivity. We need to see how we can get about this situation.”

The estate sector trade unions decided to ‘go-slow’ following the failure of four rounds of talks pertaining to the renewal of the collective agreement between the companies and the unions. The protest has been spearheaded by the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) with the backing of other unions of the sector.
The campaign by the workers was launched on July 6 and had moved on to its fourth day on Thursday (9).

Speaking on the issue, President, Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and Parliamentarian, Muthu Sivalingam said that the decision to go slow was taken as a mark of protest to the new wage structure, which did not contain benefits for workers. The unions had also demanded that their wages be increased to Rs.1000.

Accordingly, the RPCs had proposed a wage structure which links wages to productivity. However, Sivalingam stated that they were not happy with the structure since it was not beneficial to all laborers.

Rajadurai, however, stated that the new structure was linked to productivity, which was a more suitable system at this juncture. “They (unions) want the old system which is wage linked to attendance. That system is outdated. According to the new scheme, a worker can earn up to Rs.1000 a day,” he added.

Meanwhile, exporters have expressed concerns that the go-slow approach could result in Sri Lanka losing its traditional markets if prolonged.

President, Tea Exporters Association of Sri Lanka (TEA), Rohan Fernando speaking to The Nation Gain stated that even though it was too early to assess the impact of the action of the workers, tea exports were likely to fall if the problem persists. “This would compel our export countries to look at other countries, and therefore, we could run the risk of losing our traditional markets,” he said.

Tea brokers in the meantime state that the impact of the situation would be evident in two weeks. Executive Director, Ceylon Tea Brokers, Waruna de Silva stated that the tea currently sold at the Colombo auction was what was produced two weeks earlier. “Thereby, whatever tea that has been produced last week will be brought to the auction in two weeks, and then we would be able to assess the actual impact of the current situation,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s tea exports have been dwindling in the recent past owing to political and economic problems in the traditional markets such as Russia, Iran and Syria.