The Employers Federation of Ceylon (EFC) says plantation workers get a reasonable wage, disputing the findings of a research study on this issue by Dr A. S. Chandrabose, the Head of the Social Sciences of the Open University of Sri Lanka.
The study was reported in the The Sunday Times FT on May 3 headlined “Tea pluckers earn only around Rs 3,500 per month”. The EFC disputed some of these findings which it said tries to project the image that plantation workers are poorly paid and their quality of life is also of a very low standard.
In a letter to the newspaper, the EFC said:
1.The daily wage of a plantation worker today consists of a basic wage of Rs 200 plus a guaranteed payment of Rs 20 as a price share supplement and an attendance incentive of Rs 70. The study states that “workers can earn up to Rs 290 per day by finishing 75 % of the work offered by the plantations”. It also states that “most workers cannot do this”. This position is not correct as it tries to show that the Rs.70 payment is tied to the worker’s task for the day. In fact, it is a payment totally dependant on attendance. The attendance incentive of Rs 70 (out of the Rs 290 wage package) is paid to all employees who have more than 75 % of attendance in a particular month out of the number of days of work offered to him in that month.
2. Estate workers are provided with a wide range of facilities which consist of housing, medical and welfare, water, pre/post natal care for mothers and infants, child development and crèche facilities etc.
3. A large proportion of the plantation population reside within the estate, enjoy all the facilities provided by the companies but do not report to work regularly in the estates. Instead, they opt to go out and work on a daily wage without any terminal benefits or other facilities. In other words, the majority of the plantation workers have a “dual employer”, i.e., one who provides all the facilities and a totally different employer whose obligation is only to give a daily wage without any other benefits.
4. The recent report on the Regional Plantation Companies by the Presidential Committee also highlights the issue of low labour productivity and states that in 2007, nearly 8 % of the total workers employed by the Regional Plantation Companies have reported for less than 144 days work in an year, when the total number of days offered was around 310 on average.
5. Furthermore, it is difficult to accept that most workers cannot meet the 75 % attendance requirements “because they also need time to rest and to attend to the needs of their families” as said by the research. Most of our industries, especially in the manufacturing sector, work 25 days a month and the minimum wage package that is applicable is Rs 5,000 in terms of the Wages Board decisions. On the basis of a wage package of Rs 290 a plantation worker who works even for 20 days out of 25 days offered, can earn Rs 5,800 and if he works for 25 days, gets a minimum income of Rs 7,250 per month excluding additional payments made in respect of over kilos.
Therefore, it is extremely important to appreciate the distinction between an employees capacity to earn and what he ultimately earns by choice. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that what he earns as a result of his decision not to report to work for most days, should be regarded as his total income for the month. The study also seem to have not taken into account the “dual” employer model in arriving at a wage of Rs.3500.