Ousted Bata workers shift to eco-farming
A small group of Bata Shoe Company workers who lost their jobs after a trade union struggle in 2004 with the management has taken to eco-agriculture writing a new page in trade union history in Sri Lanka, union officials said.
Linus Jayatilake, president of the Commercial and Industrial Workers’ Union (CIWU) said that when the parent union were struggling to help maintain these workers and their families after the long strike Dr. Gamini Kulatunga of the Agriculture Engineering Faculty Open University in Colombo offered a training programme for two months on basic technology that will be useful for small-scale farming and these trained workers opted to go directly into agriculture and to start with paddy farming.

When the villagers of Okanduwa in Kalutara heard that former Bata workers wanted to resort to rural farming to sustain their families, one family there offered nine acres of land for cultivation.

This land hadn’t been cultivated for the last nine years and was full of jungle and weeds, only to be used by the buffalo breeders of this area.

In April 2005, 10 of these workers in Kalutara District undertook this challenge of clearing the jungle and ploughing the land. “As we were trained in ecological farming by two experts of MONLAR (Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform) and the Movement for Protection of Indigenous Seeds (MPIS) provided us a local variety of indigenous paddy seeds which is resistant to pests and weeds, we never wanted to use any chemical fertilisers or any pesticides.

We were able to find even local fish varieties due to non usage of chemical on this land for nine years which is impossible to see anywhere in Sri Lanka nowadays,” said Dayananda Perera a former Bata worker. The land was ploughed and rich and fertile soil unearthed. Instead of tractors, the former Bata workers used water buffalos to submerge the weeds in the soil.

For the CIWU it was an effort to get involved in the informal sector. For the workers, it showed they would not be abandoned after a genuine strike and can survive on a cooperative basis to confront any problem. Union officials said the MPIS and MONLAR have paved the way and led the Bata workers on the path of ecological paddy farming.

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