Though members to the Pradeshiya Sabha, provincial councils and parliament in the plantation areas are elected by workers they are not legally entitled to carry out any development work on the estates.
Chairman of the Institute of Social Development in Kandy, P. Muthulingam, whose organization works to better the welfare of workers, explained that they have to get permission from the estate management before implementing any projects. Currently, ministers are implementing minor development work in the plantation sector even though they are not entitled to.
Mr. Muthulingam explained that the Pradeshiya Sabha in Gampola was dissolved in 2008 and is facing charges of implementing programmes on estates without permission from the management and of constructing a road and putting up a water tank. “These are fundamental rights violations because the people’s right to development has been totally violated,” he said. “Plantations are not included under the provincial council or the Pradeshiya Sabha.” Mr. Muthulingam said he was holding a press conference in Colombo on March 16 (Tuesday) to address this issue.
He added that a proposal to develop plantation infrastructure submitted by the Institute and other civil society organizations and initiated by Minister Douglas Devananda’s EPDP was accepted by the government which developed it into a 10-year plan. However, the government has failed to implement the plan which was drafted under the slogan of the millennium development goals.
Mr. Muthulingam said the plan identified roads that should be developed, hospitals that should be taken under the national health ministry in addition to plans to create more facilities such as grounds and school development. It was suggested that a separate monitoring unit be created but Mr. Muthulingam said nothing was implemented apart from the government doing some work though the existing ministry. “It is a violation of the rights of the plantation community that the plan was not implemented.”
He noted that the plantation sector is facing youth unemployment problems. “It has been increasing over the last decade because youngsters are educated up to grade 8 or 9 and after that they are unwilling to work on the plantation. They think there is a stigma apart from the low salaries given to workers. Even day labourers are only paid Rs.490 and they have to work up to 75% of the days they are given or the actual salary is Rs.220.”
On the positive side, Mr. Muthulignam said workers are getting EPF and ETF but that youngsters are not thinking about social security. “They are moving towards the unorganized and informal sector and selling their labour for cheap. Women are going to the city as garment workers and shop keepers and a small number as domestic workers. Companies are also not recruiting employees as permanent workers. Youngsters are recruited for casual work towards the seasonal time.”
Mr. Muthulingam said the plantation management is recruiting retired female workers who are paid according to the kilograms they pluck which could be anywhere from Rs.10 per kg to Rs.10.50 per kg. However, they are not paid EPF and ETF and have no rights that ensured under the labour laws.
“This is exploitation in the industry among retired women. They have no labour security and no social security.”