Estate Worker Housing Cooperative Societies empower the plantation community
EWHCS in privatised estates receive strong support from Regional Plantation Companies
 Plantation workers and residents have been significantly empowered by the establishment of Estate Worker Housing Cooperative Societies (EWHCS) which are providing them loans and access to many goods and services within their respective estates, as well as creating job opportunities.
The EWHCS were first established in 1993, by the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT) (a tripartite organization consisting of the Regional Plantation Companies, the government and estate sector trade unions) in collaboration with the Department of Cooperative Development, mainly with the intention of disbursing funds to construct houses for estate residents. EWHCS have been set up at all estates managed by Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) at present.
The 418 EWHCS functioning in the sector (which include units located at both RPC and state-managed estates) have in total disbursed nearly 79,000 loans within 2014 alone for estate workers/residents who are members of these societies, demonstrating the community’s ability to fulfil its own financial needs. Nearly 80% of the loans have been provided for housing purposes, while loans have also been granted for agriculture, emergencies, festivals and for income generating activities.
The EWHCS can now generate their own funds, with the value of savings of EWHCS in the plantations multiplying by nearly 53 times between 2002 and 2010. In 2010, EWHCS had a membership of over 240,000 – a growth of 145% from the 98,000 who were members at the inception in 1993. EWHCS now even has its own bank – the ‘Vathusevaka Nivasa Samupakara Samithiya (Vanisa) Bank’ – which among others provides agricultural and small business loans and other interest-free loans to its members.
The EWHCS has emerged as a leading community-based organization in the country and many units located in Regional Plantation Company estates which receive strong support from the management, have improved their rankings in recent years based on criteria determined by the PHDT and monitored by the PHDT’s Regional Offices.
Of the total 418 EWHCS, 279, or approximately 67%, are ranked A+ (the highest ranking), A and B, reflecting the benefits from the strong support given to these societies by the RPCs in terms of capacity building, mobilization of resources etc.
In addition to providing loans, EWHCS now even operate retail/welfare shops, barber salons, communication centres etc. within estates, thus creating employment opportunities and also providing convenient access to many services to the estate residents. The PHDT has also entered into partnerships with multinationals and other leading private sector organizations to provide estate residents easy access to products and services with the appointment of EWHCS as sub-dealers. These partnerships were formed to improve the quality of life, health, nutrition, sanitation, hygiene etc. of the estate residents.
Several projects of national significance have been carried out with the involvement of and facilitation by the EWHCS. Following identification of estate residents among the highest wheat flour consumers in the country, a programme was launched by the PHDT with the collaboration of the EWHCS to encourage estate residents to switch to rice flour (a healthier alternative also in the nation’s best economic interest) in making their food, under a project with the Ministry of Agriculture.
Similarly, after firewood was found to be a health hazard among the plantation community due to inhalation of excessive smoke, pollution of the environment, fire risk etc., gas cylinders with cooker and accessories were introduced through the EWHCS on easy payment terms, as a cleaner and a safer alternative for cooking. The availability of gas cylinders at the EWHCS enables residents to purchase cylinders within the estate itself without incurring an additional cost in travelling to the city for refills. Estate Management has also observed an increase in attendance of workers, thereby improving productivity, as the workers now do not have to go in search of firewood without working.
The EWHCS have also been recently active in female empowerment with the establishment of women’s groups to facilitate training on household cash management, livelihood development, childcare etc. with the intention of creating a happy family.
“The significant strengthening of the Estate Worker Housing Cooperative Societies over the years reflects how the estate community has been gradually empowered and is now capable of fulfilling many of its own needs,” Roshan Rajadurai, Chairman of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon which represents the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) said. “The Regional Plantation Companies have always supported the EWHCS in any possible capacity and will continue to do so. It is important that all stakeholders contribute to efforts to improve the self-sufficiency of the estate community.”
The EWHCS are supported by the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) in numerous spheres. The Estate Manager serves as the Ex-officio President of the estate’s EWHCS and the committee (which comprises estate workers) providing the necessary guidance and direction. The RPCs have assisted the initiatives of the cooperatives by allocating space within buildings in the estate for storage purposes, providing security for welfare shops and particularly in capacity building with regard to financial management, accounting, auditing etc.
Several measures are currently underway to further improve the operations of EWHCS in the plantations, including the computerization of their financial records for greater discipline and accountability.
With the assistance of various stakeholders including the RPCs and the PHDT, the EWHCS have gone far beyond their initial mandate with regard to housing and now make a significant contribution to uplift the quality life of the estate community. Some EWHCS have even been recognized for excellence at Presidential Awards presented on the International Cooperative Day, after competing with other co-operative societies in the country.
In a bid to encourage further improvements, annual evaluations are done to identify the best EWHCS based on diverse criteria including good governance, community development etc. and are recognized at the AGM of the PHDT with the presentation of awards.
Last year the main award for the best performing EWHCS was won by Haputale Estate of Agarapatana Plantations. Members of the winning EWHCS are also presented with capacity-building opportunities including foreign study tours to neighbouring countries with strong co-operative networks.
Released in February 2015