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Housing and infrastructure development in 2018 reaches Rs. 2 b in the estate sector

  • Estate population living outside line rooms rises to 20% in 2018
  • 3,200 complete houses handed over to residents since 2015
  • Continuing emphasis on sanitation results in construction of 2,000 new toilets  

Making steady progress in its efforts to improve housing and living conditions for estate sector employees, the Plantations Human Development Trust (PHDT) announced the completion of housing and infrastructure development projects to the value of Rs. 2 billion in 2018, as compared with Rs. 1.4 billion in 2017. 

Comprised of a tripartite coalition of Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs), Plantation Trade Unions (TU) and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), the PHDT implements social development programs to enhance the quality of life of the 210,000 families strong estate sector community. 

Over the course of last year, the PHDT working in close partnership with the RPCs and the Government oversaw the complete construction of 1,200 houses – with each unit being comprised of a living room area, two rooms, a verandah and a kitchen, together with a separate tiled bathroom provided with direct water supply and electricity connections for each house hold. 

By way of comparison, a total of 1,045 houses were handed over to estate sector residents in the previous year. 

Meanwhile, the percentage of the estate sector community living outside of line rooms increased to 20% while access to latrine facilities has been expanded from just 20% at the time of privatisation to cover the entire community to 65% at present. 

“The challenge of providing adequate housing for the estate sector community remains formidable, however we believe it is vital to also acknowledge the tremendous progress that has been made in improving the quality of life of these communities. By highlighting positive changes, we encourage further progress by improving on livelihood development,” PHDT Director General Lal Perera stated. He noted that in addition to providing housing and creating a sense of real ownership among beneficiaries, the PHDT also works in close partnership with RPCs to provide opportunities for livelihood enhancement, while providing training on home gardening and in household cash management in order to help estate communities to better plan their expenditure and encourage savings. 

Included in 2018’s housing projects were 405 disaster relief housing units, 150 owner driven housing and 50 pre-fabricated housing units the last of which was first commenced as a special project in 2017. 

Meanwhile, Existing lines of houses in Galle, Ratnapura, Badulla, Kegalle, Kandy, Hatton and Nuwara Eliya were re-roofed as an interim measure until construction of new housing units are completed and delivered to residents. In total, the investment Rs. 25 million towards re-roofing of 600 units as part of a Rs. 80 million invested in special projects.

Such projects were comprised of new water schemes, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, upgrading community halls, playgrounds, Early Childhood Development Centres and concrete roads in order to improve connectivity between estate communities and urban centres. 

During the year, PHDT and RPCs also worked in partnership with the World Bank under the Water Supply and Sanitation Improvement Project facilitating investments towards the replacement of public toilets with 300individual toilets provided to each worker while another 2,000 new toilets are approved for construction with a Rs. 80 million investment, offering a much-needed measure of convenience and improved sanitation conditions for estate residents. 

According to PHDT Director General Lal Perera such measures are considered vital in eradicating communicable diseases and improve on personal hygiene within the estate community – including communities situated downstream - while also reducing pollution of the environment and water resources, which are made safe for utilisation for cooking and sanitation facilities. 

Child care is considered to be another key component of the program in RPC Estates which is focused on addressing the needs of mothers and children. Under the 2018 Housing and Infrastructure project, 120 out of 338 child development centres were upgraded in seven regions at a project value of Rs. 400 million as at end 2018. 

Since its establishment 26 years ago, the PHDT and RPCs have facilitated the establishment of 550 water supply projects, and 25,000 sanitation projects while overseeing the construction of 175 km of estate roads and a further over 75,000 re-roofing units. Similarly, the PHDT and RPCs have also collaborated in completing construction of 938 child development centres and constructed 30,000 houses for estate sector communities. 

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RPCs and trade unions end wages deadlock agree to Rs. 750 daily wage
 
  • Productivity and attendance incentives excluded from agreement

The Planters’ Association of Ceylon has announced that following negotiations between the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) and trade unions representing Regional Plantation Company (RPC) employees, an agreement was reached for a revised collective agreement. 

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Worker earnings tip over Rs. 80,000 per month through revenue-shared scheme on RPC managed estates

Estate workers on Regional Plantation Companies (RPC) managed estates have earned as much as Rs. 89,000 in the last month alone by working on tea fields that have been allocated to them on a revenue-share scheme. Top 20 pluckers from a hill country estate had earned on average Rs. 65,000 to 80,000 for the month of October alone. 

In the recent past, due to shortage of workers, RPCs have sought the services of retired employees and allocated blocks of tea fields for tending and plucking. This has seen a surge in livelihood generation where the pluckers, not bound by norms and pay-roll obligation, have earned two to three times their daily wage. RPC’s therefore have been advocating this very model for estate workers as the most plausible solution for both the worker and the RPC – a model whereby the worker gets to manage and take charge of an area allocated to them. 

This scheme allows a worker to pluck as much as she or he can with no limits or norms for daily plucking, resulting in pluckers bring in as much as 40 – 50 kg per day and collectively as a family have accounted for over 150 kg per day. RPC’s are confident that this revenue-share model in addition to the daily wages system is a progressive step and one that will benefit both the worker and the grower. 

Deliberated for some time now and included in the 2016 Collective Agreement, signed by Trade Union leaders and the Employer’s Federation of Ceylon (EFC), the applicable clause states “The Unions undertake to support the improvement of productivity of the industry and at estate level by moving to productivity - linked based wage regime based on revenue share/out-grower models, etc. through the next agreement. In pursuance of this objective, parties agree to meet and discuss the modalities of implementing the above during the course of this agreement.” RPC’s re-iterate that the old archaic wage model must be replaced by the more progressive revenue-share one that allows a worker unlimited potential to earn. 

This year, RPCs have put forward their recommendation of paying out Rs. 46 for every kilogram of tea plucked, which will warrant a daily wage of at least Rs. 1,012 for 22 kg of plucked tea leaves. “We hope leaders of the trade unions will appreciate this step in elevating the livelihood of workers from daily paid to being in charge of how much they earn at their pace,” stated the spokesperson for the Planters’ Association. 

Tracing the rationale behind the revenue-share model the Planters’ Association explained that currently estates operate on a 50% depleted workforce. In 1992 there were 327,000 workers which have now dwindled to 160,000. “Only 16% of all residents on estates are workers. The rest are dependents,” he noted. Inadequacy of labour and the work ethic centred towards achieving the norm and no more meant that harvesting was delayed. It was these extended fields that were resuscitated and given to workers on the premise that they tend and nurture the fields and the crop yield is theirs to sell back to the Company. This arrangement has been on-going and one that has benefitted both the harvester and RPC although not termed before as ‘revenue-share’. 

On this plan, a worker is offered 25 full working days plus the opportunity of working on the revenue sharing land which they do eagerly as if it were their own. Under their management the fields have flourished with RPC’s paying an enhanced rate for the crop harvested by them from these areas. “No worker can be forced to be a part of the revenue-share model, but we find enthusiasm with pensioners also plucking and tending these lands,” explained the PA. 

“The Rs. 80,000 earned is incremental earnings and not through the daily wages system,” PA emphasised to reiterate that it is not through the daily wages system, but additional to it.

The revenue-share scheme is being piloted across several estates and workers themselves maintain that the model helps overcome inordinate shortage of labour while enabling them unlimited enhancement of income and livelihood. The new proposal enables high labour costs to be mitigated by improving worker productivity through performance-related pay – similar to the smallholder model – while enabling workers also to earn well beyond their present income. 

“In the new model, remuneration depends on the worker’s output as opposed to the archaic attendance-based wage used at present, which provides little incentive to increase productivity and the new model thus also gives workers greater control over their earnings.”  

Sri Lanka’s 400,000 tea smallholders, who produce nearly 75% of the nation’s total amount of green leaf function on a similar basis and have more than doubled the extent of their cultivations between 1992 and 2017, reflecting the viability, the success and the attractiveness of this model for all the parties involved and in the process have bettered their quality of life as well. 

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Planters’ Association stands firm on final wage offer, productivity linked

The Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) firmly maintained that its membership is not financially able to afford demands made by worker trade unions for a daily wage of Rs. 1,000 and strongly cautioned stakeholders that any increase above the Rs. 940 wage proposed by RPCs would place the continuity of the industry in serious jeopardy.   

Negotiations over a new Collective Agreement have reached a complete deadlock despite the industry having made three concrete offers, each of which has been rejected by the trade unions who demand Rs. 1,000 per day plus EPF/ETF regardless of productivity, noted the Association.  

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PA 164th AGM ADRESS BY CHAIRMAN

Our Chief Guest this evening Hon. Raveendra Samaraweera, Minister of Labour, Guest of Honour, Mr. Lucille Wijewardena, Chairman, Sri Lanka Tea Board, Chairmen of Stake Holder Organizations, Chairmen of regional Plantation companies, Managing Directors, Chief Executive Officers, Colleagues and other distinguished invitees, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Initially I wish to thank all of you for being present here with us this evening for the 164th Annual General Meeting of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon.

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