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RPCs assure workers provided with safety gear

Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) yesterday (28) refuted claims that the estate sector was not following safety regulations and asserted that all measures were being taken to safeguard the workers, including the provision of masks.

Planters’ Association of Ceylon Chairman Roshan Rajadurai told The Sunday Morning that false allegations were being levelled against the plantation companies.

“We have provided the workers with masks where and whenever possible. If not, they have stitched masks themselves and reported to work. The workers in the field do the plucking metres apart from each other, so there is no truth to the allegation that they are working in bunches, close together,” he said.

He added that the companies had provided the workers with food and also paid advances.

“The Government has instructed the plantation sector to continue operations to strengthen the economy in these trying times but we are not forcing anyone to work. We have given them rations and also paid salary advances,” Rajadurai said.

However, estate workers unions claimed that the workers were not being provided with proper safety equipment such as masks and that social distancing was not being practised while working in the field.

Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union General Secretary Vadivel Suresh said that the RPCs were violating government safety regulations by not following protocol.

“The workers have no masks or gloves and they are working in groups in the plantations. They are then transported in a single lorry, 20 to 30 at a time, to their homes,” Suresh said.

However, Minister of Plantation Industries and Export Agriculture Dr. Ramesh Pathirana said the Government had instructed the RPCs to follow proper safety guidelines and that things were not bad in the plantation sector.

“We have sent medical staff to some of the plantations to educate the workers about hygiene and proper safety measures. I believe companies are following the Government’s safety guidelines but we will look into any irregularities if and when any are reported to us,” Dr. Pathirana said.

He also pointed out that plantation workers generally worked wide apart while plucking tea and that the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) had assured that masks were only essential if one was a Covid-19-positive patient.

“It is normal practice for the workers to be far apart while out in the plantation. In fact, some have said it would be better to be out working in the plantations rather than staying in the line rooms which are built very close to each other. With regard to mask usage, even the GMOA has said that masks are only needed if you are a patient,” the Minister said.

– Skandha Gunasekara