Wage talks fall off, giving Plantation Minister till end September to make good on promise

A preliminary round of wage talks fell through, with the Unions saying it is tough negotiation for a Rs. 400 a day wage. A preliminary round of wage talks fell through, with the Unions saying it is tough negotiation for a Rs. 400 a day wage. Unions say a Rs. 400 a day wage promise by Plantations Minister had fanned hopes back in the estates and forced talks to kick off at that level.

The current wage at Rs. 147 a day, including a Rs. 121 basic wage plus allowances was part of a collective agreement two years ago and was due for renegotiations in July 2004.

Lead negotiators for the estate workers, the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) says the unions are willing to give the Minister till the end of the month to make good his promise.

CWC Vice President R. Yogarajan told Lanka Business Online that the unions would step in with their demand only if the Minister did not come through with the Rs. 400 a day promise before the end of September.

Companies on their part want a productivity pegged wage increase at least this time, with previous efforts to decide on a structure, falling through.

Yogarajan says, the Unions could also consider a proposal to peg wages to the national sale average, adding that no decision or agreement was available currently.

The national sales average has moved up from the Rs. 130 levels to over Rs. 180 last months says Yogarajan, with all signals indicating a further growing trend.

The system has worked with rubber estate workers, with workers getting a price share supplement on top of their Rs. 109 basic wage, if rubber prices go up.

For RSS II grades of rubber, for a price threshold of Rs. 85 to Rs 95, workers get 35 cents for each rupee earned a day, Rs. 96 to Rs. 105, workers get 45 cents a rupee, Rs. 106 and above, 50 cents a day.

“We want to try and work this out this time and have a productivity pegged wage increase and even a price related increase so if prices go up we can pass that on as well,” Director General of the Planters Association, Malin Goonetileke said.

The 21 plantation companies have 270,000 workers in total, with all together clocking in 50 mn man days a year. In other words, each worker puts in 185 days of work a year.

-LBO Newsdesk: lboemail@vanguardlanka.com