‘Six bn rupee loss suffered by plantations while glyphosate ban issues mount’


By Steve A. Morrell

Chairman Planters’ Association of Ceylon,( PA )Roshan Rajadurai said at a press conference on August 23 that the plantations were continuing to register losses. Trade union demands for higher wages could not be fulfilled. He said the PA agreed that wages had to be increased, but under current projections of poor prices for tea and rubber, and reduced production, because weeds and wild underbrush had overrun arable tea land, the future of the industry was bleak.

"Against the backdrop of the lapsed collective agreement, due for review last year, although plantation unions had agitated for increased wages, their demands were now muted because the plantations are managed at colossal losses. The gathering tumultuous dark clouds continued to decimate tea land. The ban on glyphosate had further exacerbated an already hopeless situation because plantation lands had deteriorated to veritable acreages of wild extraneous growth. Considerable tea lands were over-run by weeds".

Questioned by the press why glyphosate was so important for tea to prosper, Rajadurai said glyphosate was an effective weed controller though it must be judiciously used under strict adherence to controlled circumstances. Plantations have always adhered to strict norms when weedicides are used, he said.

"Results of the glyphosate ban were that weed growth choked natural growth of tea lands. Rodents and the rat population feasting on the tea parasites have increased. This gave rise to snakes attacking rodents.

"The end result was, such dangers have prevented pluckers from entering tea field work sites, because snake bites have caused severe stress factors among workers; and in some instances, death of workers.

"Additionally, fertilizer is absorbed by weeds and sundry growth, starving mature tea of applied nutrients. The domino effect of the ban is now serious and decimation of the plantations in the short term was not improbable, Rajadurai explained.

"Considering these degenerating influences, the small holders too were in similar dire straits. It should be recognized that the small holder sector produces 70 percent of the crop; both tea and rubber. They too have been severely affected.

"The unresolved collective agreement has also received detailed press attention. Union agitation did not cease but currently was in abeyance, Rajadurai said.

‘We have offered a productivity based wage structure aligned to output. Our proposals include incentive payments over and above wages. What we have proposed is that each worker would earn Rs. 500 for a minimum norm of 10 kilos, per working day. This represents a 11 percent increase over their current wage which is Rs. 450. The 10 kilo norm could be achieved in just 2 hours' work. Plucking anything over and above the 10 kilo norm will attract Rs. 23. per kilo.

"The proposal also suggests Rs.720 for three days of the week, with 12 days per month guaranteed work. The end result was that each worker would earn Rs. 16,830 each month. That was the wage a female could earn. Add to that figure male wages amounting to a similar figure, which means the combined wage could be about Rs. 32, 000 per month, for two workers in each family.

"We have offered this wage structure to the unions. It is now up to them to realign themselves to reality and sign the agreement, Rajadurai explained.

The press commented this was quite a generous settlement and enquired who had scuttled the settlement so far. The PA did not comment, but said those who did not agree were not in the majority.

Questioned on the outgrower system to replace traditional plantation management, general views were that this did not appeal to trade unions. Asked why, they shrugged their shoulders, in a negative gesture but no comment was made.

Further questioned on the glyphosate ban and its origin, this query too was not answered. They gestured ‘No comment’.

Tony Goonawardene too made some observations.

Sec. Gen. Employers Federation Kanishka Weerasinghe commented on the wage structure.

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