ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday January 6, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 32
Kandy Times  

South Asian tea workers call for International Tea day

A group of workers, small growers and trade unionists last month said they were launching a campaign urging that governments, the UN, ILO and other international agencies declare December 15 as the International Tea Day.

The group said, at the end of the two day international tea convention held in Badulla that such recognition was necessary as the tea sector, among the highest employment providers, sustains millions of people as workers (a majority of them women) and small growers in the tea producing countries, and that there is disproportionate value accrual at the highest end of the value chain; it is never passed onto the consumers, producers or workers.

Picture shows P. Muthulingam, Chairman of the ISD, addressing the gathering at the conference.

The 3rd International Tea Day (ITD) commemorations took place in Badulla on December 14-15, organized by the Kandy-based Institute of Social Development (ISD) in Sri Lanka with the collaboration of the Plantation Sector Social Forum (PSSF) and PlantationSector Trade Unions of Sri Lanka. It was held at Hotel Sanastar, Badulla with the Chief Minister of the Uva Provincial Council, Gamini Wijeyamuni Soysa gracing the occasion as the chief guest. Indian trade union leader Ashim Roy, Secretary General of the New Trade Union Initiative in India and senior Sri Lankan plantation trade unionists, small tea growers, researchers, and members of civil society organizations dealing with the tea plantation sector participated at the conference.

The main aim of the conference was to re-emphasise the proposed International Commodity Agreement for Tea. Four sessions were included in the conference and the following areas were discussed in the conference: leasing, sub-leasing and contract labour; Uva plantation issues; plantation migrant labour issues; 10-year plantation plan; and crisis in the wage structure and the living wage.

Roy addressed the gathering on international tea crisis and solidarity The Uva Declaration was adopted at the end of the conference. Here are excerpts:

  • Concentration of power by brands and retailers is increasing the deprivation and vulnerability of the primary producers and workers

  • Burden of ‘crisis’ in the tea industry is unjustifiably passed onto workers and small growers, and it is not reflected in the profitability of the industry

  • We urge the stakeholders to take meaningful steps to introduce “floor price” and reform auction system to facilitate.

  • Governments are abdicating their responsibility in the regulation of production, pricing of tea and the welfare of workers and small growers

  • The tea industry can sustain its workers and producers and acknowledge the need for a global response.

  • Call for decent living wages and decent working and living conditions for tea workers and providing remunerative prices for small growers

  • Proposing an International Commodity Agreement for Tea: The existing tea trade practices are directed more towards the stakeholders of the value chain. There is no trickling down of the benefits of trade to workers and small producers at the lower end.
    There is a great need to regulate the tea trade internationally and to ensure the redistribution of the advantages of trade to workers and small growers.

  • Shadow International Tea Committee: The existing International Tea Committee is not equipped to address the issues of international tea trade. There is a proposal to form a shadow international tea committee to voice the concerns of different stakeholders pertaining to production, market access, auction, price control and other aspects of trade.

  • Government of Sri Lanka to take positive action to implement a 10-year national plan or action plan for social development.

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