Sri Lanka’s estate sector trade unions to hold crisis talks Tue on wages hike

Nov 20 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s plantation sector trade unions are to hold crisis talks on Tuesday on stalled wage negotiations with companies, and any strike action, if at all.

Employers say union demands for a 100 rupee a day increase over the current, without other added costs or employee benefits, would amount to five billion rupees a year.

Talks in previous years have also been volatile, with work stoppages on estates as well as yield and productivity losses, as both sides struggled to reach a settlement.

“We have not resumed talks. We are having a meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) with all trade unions to evolve a plan of action. There is no strike action, but we will decide on that tomorrow,” R Yogarajan, Vice President of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), told LBO.

Three unions – the Ceylon Workers Congress, the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union and the Joint Plantations Trade Union Centre, represent some 250,000 workers.

Talks between trade unions and employers over a wage hike for estate workers broke down last week, after failing to reach an agreement on the size of the increase.

Wages for estate workers are fixed for three years under a collective agreement, with unions demanding a 295 rupee daily wage, which companies say they cannot afford.

Plantation companies are offering a total wage package of 220 rupees a day, which would be a 22 percent hike in worker incomes, in addition to variable price share supplements.

“A 220 rupee increase is a ten percent wage hike, which is totally unacceptable after two years and three months of freezing wages. We cannot accept it and that is why talks broke down,” Yogarajan said.

Workers currently take home 180 rupees a day, which includes 135 rupees as a basic wage, a 25 rupee attendance incentive and a fixed price share supplement of 20 rupees.