Chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon Roshan Rajadurai

Amidst mounting losses in both tea and rubber brought about by rapidly falling commodity prices, crop losses due to abnormal weather, the resultant high cost of production and illogical policy decisions such as the banning of weedicides, Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) have emphasized the urgent need for the signing of a productivity-linked Collective Agreement for the remuneration of estate workers.
Reiterating that in the face of many issues a Productivity-Based Collective Agreement is essential to put the industry on a more sustainable footing, the RPCs have pointed out that they cannot continue to be in business and sustain the large population residing in RPC plantations with the current state of the industry.

At the request of the government and considering the aspirations of the workers, the RPCs provided a daily interim allowance of Rs. 100 to their workers for June and July 2016, despite being under significant financial pressure, by utilizing loans of Rs. 800 million provided by State Banks via the Tea Board. The interim allowance was paid for the two months based on the written understanding reached between the RPCs, the government and the Trade Unions that a Productivity-Based Collective Agreement will be signed prior to the payment of wages for August 2016.

The RPCs emphasize that by continuing to reject the ground reality by postponing the much-needed revision of the wage structure, the industry is being put in a perilous situation – with RPCs being unable to continue to justify large and further accumulating losses to their shareholders. The present 150-year-old archaic attendance-based wage system does not provide sufficient incentive to workers to increase output and hence has led to cost escalation. Linking wages to output therefore clearly offers the only mutually beneficial viable solution, under which productivity can be increased, while simultaneously improving the incomes of the workers, the RPCs point out.

The RPCs also called on the government to provide a solution to the weedicide issue, noting that following the arbitrary banning of glyphosate without a suitable alternative, both Tea and Rubber estate fields have become overgrown with weeds. In addition to increasing the cost associated with weeding this has caused many issues including the inability to apply fertilizer (which would be absorbed by the weeds instead of the tea plants), which in return reduces crop. The increase of weeds in tea plantations has also resulted in increase in wasp attacks on workers.