Estate workers demand drastic change

BY Mirudhula Thambiah

JVP-led All Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union (ACEWU) Leader Ramalingam Chandrasekaran said, it is time for the plantation community to remain vigilant to bring about a change in the estates through the upcoming General Elections. “Now the people of the plantations have united to struggle against injustice. Similarly, they should struggle to bring in a change in the plantations too,” he said.

Following are excerpts:

ceylont-sp-img?: Talks on the Plantation Collective Agreement has been dragging for the past four months. No salary increments have been offered so far. Are those trade unions cheating the plantation employees?
A: The collective agreement already expired on 31 March. Therefore, a new collective agreement should be prepared and through which salaries of plantation employees should be increased. But the new agreement is continuously being postponed for the past four months. Trade unions that propose wage hike and the Employer’s Federation that offers increments have neglected the employees’ claim.

The Employer’s Federation never failed to say that they are functioning at a loss thus, not in a position to offer a wage hike. They also stressed that the plantation sector workers are obtaining the highest amount of pay at international levels. We all are aware that these statements are absolute lies.
Therefore, we urge the trade unions and the employers to immediately offer the pay hike. We condemn the political agendas behind the postponing of implementing a new pay hike and the false statements issued by the Employer’s Federation.

?: Do you feel the plantation employees will be offered Rs 1,000 according to the demands of Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC)? Do you think Rs1,000 increment is adequate?
A: CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman was silent while representing former governments, but why do you think he is asking for a Rs.1, 000 increment? It is because he has now become unpopular in plantation politics. He has no other tactic to gain popularity than campaigning for Rs 1, 000 increment.
The two main trade unions, the CWC and UNP- led Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) have always taken decisions in favour of the Employers’ Federation and they cheated the plantation workers. They failed to meet the aspirations of our people. Both unions should take the responsibility for the current confused situation.

?: The trade unions have involved in amending the collective agreement.Do you think this will satisfy the workers?
A: This is another selfish agenda of the trade unions. The new amendments will not give any advantage to the plantation workers.
Similarly, there are collective agreements in other sectors too. Those agreements have provided reasonable pay hikes to the employees, but the plantation collective agreement has failed to provide the necessary requirements. Therefore, the new amendments will also be an eyewash to cheat the workers.

?: Is the Employers’ Federation running at a loss?
A: All together there are 22 companies, out of which 18 are making profits, according to our statistical analysis. Even their annual reports mention that companies have made profits. Only a few companies are running at a loss.
The Employers’ Federation has always claimed that they are running at a loss and they cannot give increments.
They have given the same reasons to cheat the plantation workers and convinced the trade unions to act according to their agendas. When the estates were brought under the Employers’ Federation in 1992, there were 225,000 acres of tea cultivation but currently only 100,000 acres are properly maintained. Other lands have been neglected.
After the privatisation of estates, new tea bushes were not planted. A bush of tea lasts for 40 years. The plantation companies have failed to maintain the estates.

?: Currently the plantation workers have launched a ‘Go slow’ campaign. Do you think it has any political influence?
A: People are now vigilant. But trade unions have political influence. The malpractices of the Employers’ Federation have now led to this situation. Workers have begun to struggle and we welcome their move.

?: However, the employers have shut down their factories. What will happen to the workers?
A: Plantation workers are playing a major role in the country’s economy. They are generating more than 12 per cent of the country’s revenue.
Therefore, the government should interfere and solve this problem. During elections plantation workers are urged to cast their votes, but their problems remain unsolved.

?: It is said that there is no democratic dialogue between the trade unions and the plantation workers over the collective agreement. Also there are allegations that the trade unions have failed to submit the necessary documents at the talks. Do you agree with this allegation?
A: I agree with it. The trade unions have failed to analyze the problems of plantation workers.
They have also failed to discuss the workers’ problems with the employees. At the same time the trade unions have failed to bring pressure on the Employers’ Federation by demanding a reasonable pay-hike.
The trade unionists are not suitable to discuss the issues of the plantation workers. The Employers’ Federation easily reject their demands as the unions do not submit evidence to support their claims.

?: There are allegations of fraud as regards allocating houses to plantation workers. Is it true?
A: Following the assurances given at the Presidential Election separate houses were scheduled to be built. However, there are legal implications in preparing deeds. Even the assurance to provide separate houses to plantation workers has turned out to be an eyewash to cheat them. They have been given temporary documents, but not deeds.

?: There are allegations that the new electoral reforms under the 20th Amendment will affect the plantation representation. Is that true?
A: The proposed electoral reforms will only benefit the major political parties and the majority community. But the minorities, specifically the plantation Tamil community will not benefit.

z_fea800_0?: Ministry of Plantation Infrastructure and Development introduced a 10-year plan through which it promised many development activities to be carried out. How do you view this?
A: One hundred days are not enough to carry out the development activities. Therefore, it is just another instance where people have been cheated.

?: The main plantation political parties recently formed a coalition to ensure a powerful representation of the plantation community. What do you think would be the outcome?
A: It is a good move to ensure the identity of the plantation community. But this is not the first time they have formed such a coalition.
During the Uva Provincial Council election, Democratic People’s Front Leader Mano Ganesan formed a coalition with the CWC but when the CWC secured a seat they joined the government led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The coalitions are just election gimmicks.

?: Do you think that the upcoming General Elections would solve the problems faced by the plantation community?
A: Both the major political parties have taken turns to destroy the country. Previously the Rajapaksa regime destroyed the country and now UNP led by Ranil Wickremasinghe is trying to destroy the precious resources of the country.
Now UNP has formed a coalition with the Jathika Hela Urumaya ( JHU) which was against the Tamil cause.
The plantation community has united to fight against injustice. Similarly, they should struggle to bring in a change in the plantations too .

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