Estate increases workers’ workload

o TUs protest against company
o Company denies allegation

Amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, a plantation company has increased the daily minimum requirement of tea leaves plucked per worker from 16 kg to 18 kg, leading to a protest by the workers.

The plantation in concern is Crackely estate of the Kotagala Plantation, according to All Ceylon Estate Workers’ Union Deputy Secretary Krishnan Kalaiselvi, who said that estate workers at the estate had staged a demonstration on Thursday (9) against this move.

“On Thursday, they had increased the minimum to 18 kg. Usually, it is 16 kg. This caused the workers to protest and stop working,” she said.

The demonstration had intensified due to the refusal of the estate to pay wages even if 14 kg had been plucked. Kalaiselvi went on to say that it was unfair of the plantation companies to demand increased output during a severe drought.

“There has been a continuous drought for a long time now and there are hardly any leaves to pluck. They cannot justify increasing the limit to 18 kg. Collecting 16 kg was hard as it is,” she said.

The issue of plantation workers being overworked and underpaid has been ongoing for several years and reports have emerged of companies increasing the daily minimum requirement of tea leaves per worker.

All Ceylon Planters Association General Secretary J.M.A. Premaratne said that this was a common practise followed by estate managers to increase productivity.

“For years now, estate managers have been imposing a minimum target to pluck per day in order to increase production. But these are extreme circumstances due to the coronavirus outbreak and the workers must be given some relief.”

Premaratne said that estate managers and owners should discuss with the estate workers as well as unions when formulating a daily tea plucking target.

“Some years earlier, we were able to negotiate with the owners of the Opanyake estate in Pelmadulla to bring down the minimum daily tea target to just three kilos.”

Nevertheless, Planters’ Association of Ceylon Chairman Roshan Rajadurai said it was perfectly normal to ask a worker to pluck a minimum of 18 kg a day.

“The daily plucking target in most companies is between 18-20 kg. In Kotagala, the average is the same, so I don’t see a problem in asking the workers to pluck a minimum of 18 kg,” he said.

He noted that estate managers were well experienced and would only give directives which they knew were practical.

“These estate managers have been in the field for decades, so they know how much can be plucked in a day. They won’t make such demands otherwise,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kotagala Plantations Director/CEO Rohan Edwards denied that any protests had taken place at the estate.

“There have been no protests. All the workers were in the field this past week,” he said, adding that some plantation
companies had a minimum limit of 20 kg per day for a worker.