Basic wage: Estate unions at loggerheads
The trade unions who were not signatories to the collective agreement on wage scales of plantation workers have decided to come together and oppose the agreement saying the interests of the estate workers have been ignored in the agreement.
The collective agreement was signed between the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) representing 21 plantation companies and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and the UNP backed Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) after the trade unions demanded a minimum wage of Rs. 5000 which was initially promised by the President at a rally in Badulla.
The Upcountry People’s Front (UPF) took the decision to formally oppose the agreement at a meeting held last Wednesday where all estate workers’ trade unions were invited to take part. Another meeting of a similar nature is scheduled to take place this Wednesday to decide on the next course of action.
The UPF claims that the agreed minimum wage of Rs. 200 per day is not adequate considering the present cost of living. The UPF said both the political and economic freedom of the estate workers had been taken away by the trade unions which signed this agreement. The union said the agreement was signed not considering the interests of the estate workers but with personal political gain in mind.
As opposed to the Rs. 200 basic wage that was agreed on at the discussions between the plantation companies and the trade unions in which the UPF did not participated, the union now claimed that the CWC and the LJEWU should have demanded Rs.300 as was the demand of all trade unions a year ago which resulted in a six-week long work to rule and strike.
However on both occasions the plantation companies had refused the demand claiming it was not economically viable.
Meanwhile the JVP-backed trade union had not taken part in the meetings organised by the UPF claiming there were underlying political motives in opposing the agreement.
“The all Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union will join with five other trade unions and take action to oppose the agreement in the near future. Further increases in the cost of living is anticipated in the near future and this would make the plight of the estate workers worse so we plan to educate our members and take further action after consulting the membership,” said All Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union spokesperson R. Chandrasekhar.