President woos UPF to avert estate showdown
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has sought the assistance of Upcountry People’s Front (UPF) leader Periyasamy Chandrasekaran in the face of possible a showdown with plantation workers led by powerful trade unions of the CWC, the UNP and the JVP -- offering a diplomatic posting to UPF vice president in the process.
UPF leader and cabinet Minister P. Chandrasekaran told The Sunday Times that the party had requested for the diplomatic posting for its vice president A. Lawrence and the matter would be taken up for discussion at the next cabinet meeting.
Meanwhile the government has allocated Rs. 56 million to Mr. Chandrasekaran’s Ministry of Community Development and Social Inequity Eradication. The allocation has been made for road development. The money was earlier due to be allocated to a CWC deputy minister for the same purpose.
With an impending trade union action by the three parties, the President has called Mr. Chandrasekaran for urgent talks within the next few days.On Friday the Central Committee of the UPF met at a five star hotel in Colombo. Mr. Chandrasekaran told the members he had been invited by the President for talks and the committee decided the UPF would not take part in the proposed strike in support of demands for wage increase.
After a dispute with the CWC recently, the President has been negotiating matters with Mr. Chandrasekeran and he also directed Labour Minister Athauda Seneviratne to take up the wage increase issue with plantation companies.
These moves prompted leading
unions, including the CWC, to pull out from a collective agreement they had entered into with plantation companies in November last year.
Plantation companies have ruled out a possible wage hike saying their profits were not sufficient to consider such increase.Talks between major trade unions and plantation companies were facilitated by the Labour Minister last week but they failed and another round of talks is scheduled for Wednesday.
The unions are demanding a minimum monthly wage of Rs. 5,000
CWC leaders are scheduled to meet in Colombo today to decide on action if the companies do not agree to the wage increase, CWC R.Yogarajan said.
According to the collective agreement signed in November last year the basic wage is Rs. 170 a day in addition to other allowances that add up to Rs. 260. However, most workers do not receive a full month’s work and average salary ranges between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 3,500.
The UNP backed Lanka Jatika Estate Workers Union General Secretary J. Velayudan said strike action would be taken if the companies did not agree to the minimum wage of Rs. 5,000 a month plus other incentives.
The JVP backed All Ceylon Estate Workers Union leader R. Chandrasekhar said the government should intervene and take steps to reduce the cost of living of the plantation workers if the management companies were not willing to increase wages.
However, Plantation Employers’ Federation chief Lalith Obeysekara said it was difficult for the companies to increase wages as demanded deviating from the collective agreement which was signed 8 months ago.
According to the agreement the union leaders agreed that they would not demand a wage increase for two years.
“The plantation companies cannot afford to increase the wages at present. We are still recovering from the work stoppages and the go-slow action of the trade unions last year. We signed the collective agreement taking into consideration all factors for two years and it was a decision we took even though we knew it would be difficult for us to sustain the companies,” Mr. Obesekara said.