Sri Lanka: Tea pickers not exempt from work amid lockdown; struggle as accommodation is overcrowded and unsanitary

Author: Yasmin Gunaratnam, The Guardian, Published on: 23 April 2020

"Soap and solace scarce as Sri Lanka's tea pickers toil on amid lockdown", 24 April 2020

In Sri Lanka, police have been enforcing tough lockdown measures and a strict curfew since March. The country’s inspector general has instructed police to take action against social media users who criticise the government or spread “malicious” pandemic information.

An exception has been made, however, for the country’s tea pickers. A caveat on the country’s lockdown order, issued on 20 March, read: “Paddy farming and plantation, including work on tea small holdings and fishing activities, are permitted in any district.”

...The Ceylon Workers’ Red Flag Union say coronavirus public health measures mean little on estates. There are no facilities to wash hands with soap during a shift and masks are not always issued, even though it has been mandatory to wear them in public since early April.

A pressing concern is living conditions. Accommodation on tea estates generally consists of overcrowded, tin-roofed “line rooms”, usually five consecutive rooms in long rows. Each 30-square-metre room is a household, making social distancing impossible. Toilets are sometimes communal...

With the pandemic curfew, even basic foods such as rice and lentils have been scarce, and women are struggling more than ever to maintain the health of their households... 


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