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RPCs file petition challenging estate sector wage increase

16 March 2021 08:57 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • 20 RPCs file writ application in Court of Appeal challenging 
  • Rs.1, 000 wage increase 
  • Two Damro Group plantations not among petitioners 
  • Private-sector tea factory owners to file separate petition shortly

By Nishel Fernando
Twenty Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) have filed a writ application in the Court of Appeal challenging the decisions of the Wages Boards for the Tea and Rubber Growing and Manufacturing Trade for deciding to increase the minimum wage of workers to Rs.1,000, which was subsequently approved and gazetted by the Labour Ministry recently.


“Unfortunately, planation companies have filed action in the Court of Appeal asking a writ to quash the decision of the wages control boards to increase the daily minimum wage of plantation workers to Rs.1, 000,” Labour Minister Nimal Sirpala de Silva said.


“This is very unfortunate; the plantation lands are not their private properties, they belong to the people of the country.  RPCs are not cooperating with the government policy and mandate. Therefore, we have to fight this in courts. I already asked the Attorney General to appear on behalf of the respondents,” Minister de Silva told reporters in Colombo  yesterday. 


The petitioners are seeking the court to grant and issue a mandate in the nature of a writ of certiorari quashing the decision of the two wages control boards. Further, they have also requested the court to issue an interim order suspending and/or staying the effect of the two wages board decision until the final determination of the writ application.

The Wages Boards for the Tea and Rubber Growing and Manufacturing Trade last month voted for the plantation union-backed proposal to more than double the minimum wage of industry workers to Rs.1,000 by a majority vote. 


RPCs, private sector tea factories and others submitted over 120 objections against the wage increase. Despite objections, the two wages control boards early this month moved to confirm the wage increase that was proposed in budget 2021. The decision was approved by Minister de Silva and finally came in the form of an extortionary gazette notification.


Accordingly, the new minimum daily wage has been set for Rs.900, with a budgetary relief allowance of Rs.100 for both tea and rubber plantation workers with effect from March 5, 2021, according to the gazette notification.


Interestingly, Pussellawa Plantations Ltd and Agalawatte Plantations managed by Damro Group are not named as petitioners in the writ application.  The Minister said plantation workers in these two planations receive wages above Rs.1000. 


Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) estimates that RPCs would incur additional Rs.15 billion in expenses due to the wage increase. The writ application, which was filed last week, is scheduled to be taken up by the Court of Appeal next week.


Meanwhile, a top official at Sri Lanka Tea Factory Owners Association (SLTFOA) revealed that the membership of the Association, joining with non-member tea factories, is in the process of filing a separate writ application challenging the decision of wagers control boards.


The Association stressed that its members aren’t able to afford Rs.1, 000 minimum wage rate. Further, it expects some players in the tea smallholder sector to take separate legal action.

Although the Rs.1,000 daily wage hike was targeted at the workers in the RPCs in the up-country, the two wages boards cover the whole value chain from plantations to manufacturing of tea and rubber.


Minister de Silva noted that his ministry is already exploring alternative avenues to implement the minimum daily wage, if it faced obstacles in the courts.

 

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