All plantation companies in the private sector have decided to withdraw from collective agreements with trade unions, when the Wages Board implements the minimum basic wage for plantation workers, states the Chairman of Planters Association of Ceylon (PA), Bhathiya Bulumulla.
Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to give Rs. 1,000 as the daily minimum wage for plantation sector workers, during his Budget speech for 2021, which has been a political promise for years by successive governments.
However, the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) opposed the move to grant a fixed minimum wage for workers as it would be a serious threat to the sustainability of the tea industry. Instead RPCs proposed a three-day minimum wage system, a revenue share model and pay based on every kilo of tea plucked by the workers, which was not welcomed by the unions.
However, as discussions with the Unions failed to reach a compromise last week, the Wages Board decided to approve a daily minimum wage of Rs. 1,000 for plantation labourers which will comprise Rs. 900 from plantation companies and Rs. 100 from budgetary allocations from the Government. Workers are to receive their EPF and ETF remittances separately.
“This is not a minimum wage. This is a political wage. Trade unions and the Government are trying to kill the 150-year-old industry,” Mr. Bulumulla said.
The decision on a minimum wage of Rs.1,000 has been taken without proper consultation with the plantation sector.
The plantation companies are also not in a position to follow two separate guidelines (Wages Board directives and collective agreements with trade unions) in the future, he stated. Asked about the preparation to try industry automation as an alternative, the PA Chairman said, “First we have to survive to do whatever the investment in the industry”.
Automation or nothing will happen if the industry is killed. Minister of Labour, Nimal Siripala de Silva told the media earlier that the gazette containing the decision of the Wages Board will be out within a week of the decision.
However, the gazette is yet to be published after two weeks.