From right: Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake, Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Lucille Wijewardena and a Sri Lanka Tea Board official
Pic by Kushan Pathiraja
By Nishel Fernando
The government yesterday said it would contribute Rs.50 to the daily wage of every tea plantation worker, for a period of one year, which can only be described as a desperate measure to end the protracted plantation sector daily wage issue.
Plantation Industries Minister Navin Dissanayake told the reporters in Colombo yesterday that the Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB) funds to the tune of Rs.1.2 billion, given to the government as a loan, would be utilized for this purpose.
He said a decision in this regard was reached during a meeting he had with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last morning, as the plantation companies had conveyed the government that they were not in a position to further increase the plantation worker wages. Dissanayake expects to submit a Cabinet memorandum in this regard within two weeks and said the proposal would be included in the upcoming budget this April.
Sri Lanka has estimated 140,000 plantation sector workers.
Dissanayake said the proposed Rs.50 per worker would be in addition to the recently agreed total daily wage of Rs.750, which includes a Rs.700 basic daily wage. The latest wage agreement was formalised between the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) and several plantation worker trade unions, last month.
However, several government ministers opposed the new wage agreement and insisted on the original demand of Rs.1,000 as the basic daily wage.
Sri Lanka this year targets US $ 1.6 billion from tea exports through renewed efforts towards replanting, maintaining the quality of the Ceylon Tea brand and the anticipated launch of the Rs.4.5 billion global promotional campaign this March.
Dissanayake said his ministry plans to allocate Rs.2.9 billion for replanting and infilling for the RPCs and tea smallholders, with plans to replant over 200 hectares of tea plantations in the country.
He said the funds from the tea promotion levy would be utilised for this purpose, after securing the necessary approvals from the Treasury.
The SLTB has estimated that as much as 50 percent plantation land managed by the RPCs is currently underutilised.
As a result, a special focus will be on the RPCs in tea replanting and infilling, to boost their yields.
Meanwhile, Dissanayake reminded the RPCs that they are ultimately accountable for the public for the management of the plantations, as these properties are owned by the state.
“The RPCs have a responsibility to hand over the tea plantation in their original state. They (RPCs) are managers, not owners and the public are the real owners. There are some RPCs, which are acting as owners,” he said. Dissanayake also announced that the government had decided to ban MCPA, which emerged as an alternative to the popular weedicide glyphosate.
“There’s threat to the quality of Ceylon Tea emerging from the usage of MCPA. Hence, we have made a decision to ban MCPA altogether,” he said.
He also said the director board of the Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka, at their next meeting, would approve with the baseline sugar contents for individual tea types, to take legal action against the tea adulterates.
Sri Lanka’s tea exports declined 2 percent to 282 million kilogrammes in 2018, compared to 282 million kilogrammes exported in 2017, while the export earnings declined by a nearly US $ 100 million to US $ 1.43 billion.