Several Indian-origin Tamils working in Sri Lanka’s tea estates have been protesting, seeking higher wages. They are demanding a daily wage of LKR 1,000 equivalent to INR 450. However, tea estate owners are against the wage rise citing it to be high in the light of current ‘risk-prone’ business environment.
The wages of estate workers was slated to be revised in the previous year following the end of previous collective wage agreement in March 2015.
The workers cited that the wages have yet not been increased even after a year has passed since March 2015. Earlier, the daily wage of an estate worker was fixed at LKR 620 (about INR 280) as per the 2013 agreement and included EPF, ETF and an incentive associated to the number of days worked.
Mano Ganesan, leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance and Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages, stated that the protests were autonomous and unplanned, and represented the situation of the estate workers. Mano quoted “This is a historically oppressed community that has toiled in the estates for the country’s prosperity. Their demands should not be ignored”.
There are approximately 9 lakh Indian-origin Tamils residing in Sri Lanka, primarily in the country’s Central and Uva Provinces. It is reported in government records that more than two lakh people comprise the labour force working in the tea estates.
Currently, many of them reside in line rooms build about a hundred years ago. The workers were brought by British from India to be employed in the plantations.
Tea accounts for about 13% of total export earnings of Sri Lanka, ranking it as the country’s second largest export commodity. However, export earnings from tea decreased drastically by around 17.7% to $1.34 billion in 2015. The Central Bank’s annual report cited the decrease in tea exports, which is the lowest in five years, to changes in global economy.