. A total of 140,000 workers to benefit
. Disbursement may be delayed by election
By Madhusha Thavapalakumar
The Sri Lankan Government has allocated Rs. 600 million to provide incentives to plantation sector workers with the objective of enhancing productivity and efficiency of Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs).
A total of 140,000 plantation workers are to benefit from these incentives, which will be offered for each additional kilogram of tea plucked by them, an official of the Ministry of Plantation Industries told The Sunday Morning Business.
The Treasury would allocate the necessary amount of funds and assign it to the Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB) for the aforementioned purpose.
The Cabinet proposal on implementing the incentive scheme was presented by Minister of Plantation Industries Naveen Dissanayake and Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera. The proposal was approved by the Cabinet last week.
However, the SLTB, which would be the monitoring institution of this project, was not aware about this decision as of Wednesday (30).
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, SLTB Chairman Lucille Wijewardena noted that the Ministry of Plantation Industries did not inform the SLTB about this matter and confirmed that no fund allocations were made. “All we have is the tea promotional fund. Apart from that, we did not receive any funds,” Wijewardena affirmed.
The Ministry official noted that this scheme had been in the pipeline for months as a measure towards addressing the labour inefficiency of RPCs. “RPCs’ labourers lack efficiency and also, they have lower levels of productivity. This inefficiency affects their day-to-day expenses and also the performance of RPCs,” the official noted.
However, The Sunday Morning Business reliably learns that the Government had arrived at this decision following a meeting with plantation sector-based political parties with an eye on the upcoming presidential elections and the significant vote base of plantation workers.
According to the Ministry official, even though the proposal was approved last week, the implementation might be delayed due to the election. However, the Ministry is expected to hold a discussion with the Election Commission to seek possibilities of early implementation.
Speaking further, the official noted that the RPCs have come on board to implement the productivity incentive scheme and added that RPCs do not have any valid reason to oppose this decision taken by the Government.
However, The Sunday Morning Business spoke to the Planters’ Association of Ceylon, where they confirmed they are not aware about this decision of the Government and that they were not consulted before arriving at this decision.
Accordingly, as of Friday (1), the association neither received an official confirmation from the respective ministries nor heard anything with regard to this from the officials.
A senior planter told The Sunday Morning Business that the productivity levels of labourers might be lower as the Government did not agree with the wage they demanded for earlier this year. However, he believes this sudden incentive scheme could be tied to the upcoming presidential election.
Earlier this year, plantation sector workers requested their daily wages to be increased to Rs. 1,000, but the RPCs did not agree. It appeared at the time that the Government was leaning towards the demands of the workers due to the politically sensitive nature of the issue and also the demands of its coalition partners who represented the estate sector.
After weeks of negotiations, plantation sector workers’ unions reached an agreement with RPCs to increase their basic daily wage from Rs. 500 to Rs. 700, with several incentives including an additional Rs. 50 under the price share supplement (PSS).