Over 12,000 estate workers deprived of EPF, ETF, gratuity amounting to Rs 1,888 mn

Shocking case of dereliction of duty by bureaucrats:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Estate workers have not been able to secure arrears of EPF, ETF and gratuity payments amounting to Rs 1,888 mn due to the absence of a proper mechanism to implement recommendations made by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL),

The non-implementation of recommendations made by the HRCSL in August 2019 pertaining to 12,000 workers of the Janatha Estate Development Board (JEDB), Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SLSPC), and Elkaduwa Plantations Limited had been inquired into by the HRCSL following representations made by some of those affected. The incumbent HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe on Wednesday summoned a meeting to explore ways and means of resolving the long-standing issue.

Authoritative sources told The Island that though all three plantations companies had been asked to attend a meeting summoned by the HRCSL on March 23, only JEDB attended along with senior representatives of relevant ministries.

Sources said that the monies that had been deducted from the salaries of workers were not remitted to the Central Bank and the retired workers deprived of their gratuity.

Sources explained that the original complaint had been received way back in 2013 and the recommendations made in late 2019 and none of those responsible took tangible measures to implement specific recommendations.

According to the HRCSL document signed by the then HRCSL Commissioners Ramani Muttetuwegama and H. Gazali Hussein, the JEDB owed workers Rs 885 mn, SLSPC Rs 664 mn and Elkaduwa Plantations Rs 339 mn.

Sources said that the Ministry of Plantation Industries, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Public Enterprise and Kandy Development, Department of Labour and the Central Bank were the other respondent parties.

Sources said that the ministries had turned a blind eye to the plight of the workers regardless of the HRCSL recommendations brought to their notice.

The HRCSL has received an assurance from the JEDB that all due payments of former estate workers of the Estates of JEDB would be settled on or before Nov 2, 2022. However, SLSPC and Elkaduwa plantation companies hadn’t so far indicated how they intended to address the issues, sources said. The HRCSL would soon call them for a meeting to seek an explanation regarding their absence at the March 22 meet.

Sources said that the issues pertaining to estate workers had been handled in a lethargic manner by the Ministry of Plantation Industries, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Public Enterprise and Kandy Development, Department of Labour and Central Bank. Specific recommendations/ instructions meant to provide relief to the workers had been discarded so far, sources said, adding that the HRCSL intended to pursue this matter vigorously.

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