Plantation Collective Agreement repudiated by trade unions
The plantation sector was plunged into a crisis this week when three unions repudiated the Plantation Collective Agreement which was signed in December 2006 over a wage dispute.
The three unions include the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers' Union (LJEWU), the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Committee (JPTUC). The Administrative Secretary of the LJEWU, M.S.E.H. Mohideen told The Sunday Times FT that when the agreement was signed last year, the cost of living was less that what it is today and unions are therefore asking for additional salary. He also said that the management arbitrarily increased the norm of 14 kilos of plucking per day for the workers, pluckers and tappers to between 20 and 22 kilos per day. Mohideen said the companies gave instructions to the superintendents to increase the plucking norm. "Normally, the superintendent doesn't do this because they have to face the workers."
Mohideen said that Minister of Labour Relations Athauda Seneviratne has also increased the minimum wage of all trades other than the tea and rubber growing and manufacturing trade.
When the LJEWU sought an explanation from Seneviratne, he said that the tea and rubber growing and manufacturing trade workers are covered by the Plantation Collective Agreement and he is therefore unable to change the wage pattern. Mohideen said this prompted the LJEWU and the two other unions to withdraw from the Collective Agreement. The minimum wage which was increased for workers in other trade is Rs.200 per day, equalling to Rs.5000 per month. This will also include additional allowances and incentives for attendance will continue, bringing the total to Rs.290. However, Mohideen said the minister is not prepared to give this.
The LJEWU met with the minister on Thursday and planned another meeting for yesterday (Saturday) to discuss the issues. It was not sure whether the meeting was held. The union is also seeking assistance from the government and the state machinery to give the workers some relief. Mohideen cited the increase in kerosene oil prices and wheat flour as two main concerns for the plantations workers. "We are also waiting for the minister to speak to the employers and the unions and hope the matter will be amicably settled."
A statement issued on Thursday by the Employers' Federation of Ceylon (EFC) on behalf of the regional plantation companies said the last collective agreement which was signed in December 2006 had revised the daily wage package by approximately 33% and was negotiated and finalized amidst many difficulties, especially in the context of loss of production during the period of strike action which lasted well over a month. "The aftermath of the strike action was soon followed by the severe drought experienced during the early part of this year. The cost of production has increased very rapidly due to the escalating costs of fuel, fertilizer, electricity, etc…"
The EFC also stated that 'what must be appreciated by all who are concerned by the sustenance of the industry is that the plantation worker is able to receive a monthly package of Rs.6,500 in terms of the current wage package. Quite apart from the wage package, there are so many other benefits that a plantation worker enjoys. Therefore, a plantation worker in comparison with a worker in any other manufacturing industry receives an attractive total monthly package on account of these benefits granted to them.'
The EFC further stated that improvement in the quality of life in the plantations is a challenge to all stakeholders. 'Above all, there is an urgent need to protect and enrich this industry which has and continues to be the lifeblood of this economy. There must be a clear appreciation of the fact that the current wage package which was intensely negotiated for well over a period of one and a half months has granted a significant increase to the plantation workers.' (NG)