Sri Lanka: Tea estate workers who sustain the country's economy mobilise to fight for fair basic wages

Author: Meena Srinavasan, The Hindu, Published on: 21 October 2019

"A bitter brew: For Sri Lanka’s tea estate workers, fair wage is still elusive" 5 October 2019

After a prolonged struggle for fair wages, the workers who sustain Sri Lanka’s economy are tired.

Frustrated with their stagnant wages and spiralling living costs, tens of thousands of workers joined the ‘1,000-rupee wage’ struggle, one of Sri Lanka’s biggest worker mobilisations in recent history, both in its show of strength and geographic spread, in plantations across the island’s Central, Uva and Southern Provinces. 

In January, trade unions and employers signed a new collective agreement, approving a 40% raise, still short of the amount the workers had emphatically demanded. The government later promised an additional LKR 50 to the basic wage, which workers are yet to receive. 

With the marginal increase in wage earlier this year, most plantation companies cut a performance-linked incentive that was earlier paid, according to the workers.The revised wage is hardly enough, according to a 2018 study by academics at the University of Peradeniya. 

In addition to the challenge in increasing production, plantation companies point to a declining workforce and a fall in global prices, effectively conveying a message that a wage hike beyond LKR 750 is non-negotiable and virtually impossible.      


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