Unpaid paper mill workers in desperate straits

Embilipitiya mill workers, unpaid for two months and underpaid for years, saved the starving family of a colleague from certain death by hurriedly raising some money and rushing them some food and provisions, a union official said yesterday.

He said neighbours from their colleague’s Matara village had called him to say that the man’s wife was so desperate that she might take poison and give it to her children also if she was unable to find food.
“We raised some money and bought some food and provisions and sent them through the colleague,” a union spokesman said. He identified the worker only by his first name, Sarath.

The sad episode unfolded as the Industries Ministry claimed that it had no more money to pay the salaries of the Embilipitiya mill workers. The ministry’s position was conveyed to the mill workers when Ratnapura District UPFA Parliamentarian Sunny Rohana telephoned Industries Ministry Secretary Livy Gamage and asked him why the mill workers had not been paid for the past two months.

The MP made the inquiry when union representatives urged him to intervene and help them get their salaries. The union officials said that for the past three years, the millhad not been paying their salaries on time and when they were paid, they got only part of the salaries.

According to one union leader, the accumulated arrears due to a worker now stand at more than Rs. 100,000.

The union leaders also met former Jathika Hela Urumaya Parliamentarian Omalpe Sobitha Thera and asked him to intervene. When the monk received the same reply from Ministry Secretary Gamage, he commented that the Government could spend hundreds of millions of rupees to send a large delegation on a joy ride to the United Nations but it had no money to pay the poor workers.

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