A cup of tea is cherished when fatigue sets in, but do we value the work that tea pluckers put in to give us that cup full of aroma? The answer to this question is ‘no’. Just a few days ago the Wages Board gave the nod for tea estate workers to receive a daily wage of Rs 1000. But that decision couldn’t be implemented because regional plantation companies have backtracked from an agreement they signed with trade unions that represent these estate workers.
The estate workers’ issue must be looked at from a human point of view. Right now their issue is being raised by the Ceylon Workers’ Congress. Another issue that needs to be highlighted is that these workers are from Indian origin and might not receive the sympathy of northern and Colombo Tamils. The caste system within the Tamil community hasn’t helped the cause of estate workers.
Exactly a century ago the Constitution created two new seats; which were for a representative for upcountry citizens and one for Indians. This was the time that the problems associated with Indian Tamils and Sri Lankan Tamils surfaced.
In 1919 the National Association was formed. But when the demand by the Tamils to receive 1/3 representation in parliament wasn’t entertained this minority community withdrew from the National Association. There arose a worse situation thereafter. By the time the country received independence in 1948 the estate Tamils had lost their right to be citizens of the country.
"By the time the country received independence in 1948 the estate Tamils had lost their right to be citizens of the country. Lawyer S.G Punchihewa in his book ‘Human Rights and the Federal System’ states that these developments had given birth to a estate Tamil community which is termed inferior. These estate workers won back their rights to vote again after many years"
Lawyer S.G Punchihewa in his book ‘Human Rights and the Federal System’ states that these developments had given birth to a estate Tamil community which is termed inferior. These estate workers won back their rights to vote again after many years, but whether they can use this franchise to gain anything worthwhile for themselves looks gloomy despite the support of trade unions.
In that context it’s natural that these estate workers have been backed basically by workers unions and not lawmakers. As long as these workers’ problem is viewed from a perspective of elections and raising votes the lives of estate workers would continue to be miserable.
It’s in this context that we hear the voice of Senthil Thondaman, Vice Chairman CWC, raising a voice in support of the estate workers. It’s in this context that we hear that regional estate companies are showing concern that they’ll encounter more financial difficulties if they pay the Rs 1000 daily wage. These companies maintain that paying the revised daily wage to workers isn’t productive because they are already operating at a loss.
If the estate workers are pinched further the unions warn that there would be protests.
Much has been said about in parliament about the estate workers’issue followed by promises to pay the Rs 1000 daily wage. The Labour Commissioner General has maintained that regional estate companies which fail to pay the recommended daily wage of Rs 1000 would be liable to face legal action.
In reality does the tea estate workers’ issue surface in the minds of those who walk along the corridors of power only when it is time for tea?