The Domestic Workers Union (DWU) called on the State and the Government to take over the maintenance of the plantations and estates or to lease them to the workers employed in them.

The workers who engage in plucking tea leaves are knowledgeable concerning the amount of fertilizer and agrochemicals that needs to be used and therefore as an alternative system to the State taking over the maintenance of the plantations and the estates, these can be leased to the workers for a certain period (like on an annual basis), the DWU observed, adding that the State should however provide the fertilizer subsidy.

This system works like a cooperative system, the DWU maintained.

Meanwhile, Joint Secretary of the DWU, Ananthi Sivasubramaniam said that domestic workers should be included within the Minimum Wage Bill recently presented to the Parliament.

Because the State owned plantations and estates are not maintained at all by superintendents and have been allowed to grow wild (even though they have bungalows with staffs, an aspect which incurs a massive expenditure), the workers in these only get work for eight to 10 days, and because the base salaries are mentioned in the collective agreements, they get paid only for the days they reported to work, she outlined, adding that the workers were demanding that they be provided with work for 25 days a month.

The Government has given no response or had any discussions with regards to how they would take over the maintenance of the plantations and the estates and also given no information concerning who exactly would be handling the affairs of the plantations and the estates, she noted.

Since 2000, there are plantation and estate workers who have not been paid Employees Provident Fund and Employees Trust Fund, service gratuity and maternity benefits, she mentioned, adding that the poor education of children in these areas, the difficulty of having access to medicines and the loss of livelihoods had all resulted in a social problem in places like the Yapa Watte in Hunnasgiriya, Sivasubramaniam remarked.

During the times that tea is not planted, lemongrass and seasonal fruits can be farmed, and the State can purchase the produce, she pointed out, adding that what the workers lacked was capital to invest in such a venture.

The workers know how to reduce costs and maximize profits as they know the situation in the plantations and the estates better than the State, and therefore the Government should conduct stakeholder discussions with the workers being brought to the table in order to come up with a better alternative as a solution to the absolute lack of maintenance in the plantations and the estates, she added.

“There are over 100,000 domestic workers in the country in Colombo, the North and East and in the plantations and estates. They have no legal protection from labour laws or from the Department of Labour. We cannot even file a case. Although there are those who earn Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a month, there are still others who earn even Rs 75, Rs 200, and Rs 400 a day, and Rs 7,000, Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000, a month. With today’s cost of living, these salaries mentioned in the latter are not sufficient. For migrant workers in places like the Middle East, the Government has secured minimum wages. Workplace security is not there for domestic workers. Female domestic workers cannot easily move out of the environments they are born into, particularly in the plantations and the estates,” Sivasubramaniam emphasized.