ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 16, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 16

Now, estates, CEB unions to protest

By Shelani Perera

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB)’s JVP-backed union and 26 other trade unions will launch a campaign on Tuesday to protest over what they see as the failure of the government to meet their demands including salary increases and other incentives. The protest campaign comes in the aftermath of a major crisis over a strike by teacher trade unions and last Friday’s tough Supreme Court order for union leaders to stop the strike or be jailed.

Tuesday’s protest campaign spearheaded by the JVP backed Lanka Viduli Sevaka Sangamaya was triggered by a government decision to grant special allowances to CEB engineers. Lanka Viduli Sevaka Sangamaya Secretary Ranjan Jayalal said they had sought an appointment with Power and Energy Minister John Seneviratne to discuss their grievances but he had declined to even meet them because he believed they had political motives.

Mr. Jayalal said his union was backed by the JVP but the other unions involved in the agitation were independent and all had got together to fight against what they saw as a grave injustice. But Minister Seneviratne was also taking a tough line. He repeated his charge that some of the unions had political motives and were not satisfied with anything.

Mr. Seneviratne said he had instructed the CEB to give an extra allowance of Rs. 1,200 to all workers but the engineers’ issue was a different matter and thousands of workers could not be given the same allowances that engineers were given. Outlining the campaign, Mr. Jayalal said the protest would begin in Kurunagala on Tuesday, followed by protests in Kandy, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Badulla, Ampara ,Galle, Ratnapura, Gampaha and other areas.

He said protests would be held at Parliament junction on October 4, followed by a sick note campaign on October 10 and a token strike on October 17 where there could be a power disruption. Meanwhile, to avert a major strike on the estate sector, Labour Minister Minister Athauda Seneviratne has convened a meeting tomorrow for crucial talks between the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon and the three main plantation unions.

Early this week, the three unions -- the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, Lanka Jathika Estate Workers’ Union, and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Committee -- pulled out of the collective agreement which they entered into in December 2006. Under the agreement, the daily wage of the estate workers was increased to Rs. 170. Now the unions demand another 30 rupee increase in the face of spiraling cost of living.

The EFC in a statement issued on Thursday refused to make any further increases on the basis that the total daily wage of an estate worker already stands at Rs.260 when price share supplement of Rs. 20 and an attendance incentive of Rs. 70 are added to the basic wage.

The EFC also argued that every rupee increase in wages raises the cost of production by 52 cents per kilo of made tea. Even under existing costs “the cost of production in Sri Lanka is 35 per cent higher than Kenya and 40 per cent higher than Indonesia and the cost of plucking is double that of South India.”

Unlike other workers, the EFC also pointed out that plantation workers were entitled to so many other benefits such as free housing, medical facilities, crèche facilities, annual attendance bonus, holiday pay, funeral aid, additional payments for exceeding norms etc. In response, CWC Vice President R. Yogarajan last night said private companies could not talk about free housing as they had not built a single new house and whatever improvements that were done to their housing was done by the government.

He said the price share supplement and the attendance incentive could not be considered a part of the basic wage as EPF was not paid on those two allowances.“Our tea is more expensive because we have a quality product and unlike in India our cost of living is very much higher. Here a kilo of rice ranges from Rs. 35 to Rs. 45, but in South India a kilo of rice can be bought for Rs.2 (Sri Lankan Rs 5.50),” he said.

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