I. De Silva
The Ceylon Planters’ Society wishes to address this communiqué to the Labour Minister questioning the retirement age of planters.
The society has attempted to discuss this problem at various forums for the past two decades, without success.
The planters, along with the backing of the Planters’ Society, supported the idea of ‘privatization’ ‘wholeheartedly’ when all the other unions objected privatization vehemently. Today, the staff and manual category of employees enjoy the privilege of working up to the age of 60 years and only planters, being executives, are allowed to work up to the age of 55 years. Why is there a denial of the same status only to planting executives? Doesn’t this amount to discrimination of labor?
During the nationalized era of estates, planting executives were allowed to continue to work until the age of 60 years. We are aware that when the ‘privatization’ of estates took place, the planters in the industry were given an assurance that none of the previously enjoyed terms and conditions established will be changed to the detriment of the planters and in fact, this was affirmed in the gazette.
We quote below a circular No. ADM/EW/62/89 dated December 8, 1989 signed by the then Director/General Manager late K. Ratnayake: “In view of the fact that estate managers and assistant managers are permitted to continue in employment up to 60 years of age on directive issued by the former President J.R. Jayawardena in respect of this category of employees, you need not submit applications for extension of service annually after reaching 55 years of age. Please note this for compliance.” The above contents are self-explanatory.
Presently, the executives reaching the age of 54 years are informed by certain plantation companies that they would be reaching the age of 55 in one year’s time and would therefore, upon reaching the age of retirement, have to make all preparations to handover their official charges, bungalows and vehicles.
However, we appreciate the fact that certain Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) are allowing planters to continue in service till the age of 60 years and even beyond. The retirement age of the planters employed at S.L.S.P.C, J.E.D.B and Elkaduwa Plantations Ltd, by virtue of the fact that a planter is not expecting this inhuman stroke, he is in a deep quandary having planned to retire only at the age 60 years as part of the psychological contract.
This is inhuman because during the subversive years of not too long ago, he manned his property with no consideration given to his age or life. Many lost their lives in their attempts at working in their respective estates, leaving behind a string of widows and orphans. However, most importantly, our right to work until 60 years, which is a benefit previously enjoyed by the planting executives, is a right that must be allowed and followed according to the gazette. Thereby, it is right to say that regulation has been taken away for no rhyme or reason.
The circumstances under which a planter faces retirement in the current context of rising inflation would quickly place in a situation of insolvency and thereby the cost of goods and services would be beyond his reach. However, Elkaduwa, Finlays, RPK, Elpitiya, Kurunegala, Chillaw, Bogawantalawa, Watawala Plantation companies, N.L.D.B, S.L.S.P.C and J.E.D.B are allowing the plantation executives to continue till 60, without extensions being asked for and without a reduction in remuneration including benefits.
We respectfully urge that you give this matter more thought particularly in the context of ‘pre-privatization’ assurance ensured on ‘privatization’ of estates. We are confident that this matter will receive your urgent and necessary cognizance, at your very earliest. Failure to act immediately on this matter will not only result in the loss of the skilled expertise at an optimum level of the plantation executives of the industry but this will also be another reason for the present crisis in the plantation industry.
(Lalin I. De Silva is the former Editor of Ceylon Planter’s Society Bulletin)