Tea industry urges Govt. to check CWC

By Chris Kamalendran

Two leading plantation associations have urged the government to prevent Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) politicians from disrupting the plantation sector by initiating worker unrest. The move came after CWC Provincial Minister Senthil Thondaman prompted the workers to stage a ‘go-slow’ campaign in the Central and Uva regions disrupting tea production during the week.

The Ceylon Planters Society and the Planters Association of Ceylon separately urged the government to take measures to prevent any incidents that could further damage the tea industry which is also facing a global crisis mainly due to the turmoil in the Middle East.During the week plantation workers reduced plucking of tea to five kilos a day from an average of 10 to 15 kilos, slowing down the production process and preventing tea stocks from coming to Colombo.

The Sunday Times learns that the ‘go-slow’ was launched after the provincial politician’s demand for the reinstatement of three workers was turned down by the company concerned.

The minister abused the estate managers in the presence of estate workers before getting workers to start a ‘go-slow’ campaign’. The workers had been told that the management was going to reduce the daily wages by Rs. 100 per day if they failed to pluck the required number of kilos of green tea, the plantation associations claimed yesterday.

However, Mr. Thondaman told the Sunday Times the allegations by the plantation associations were not correct.

“The management is demanding that workers should bring in 18-20 kilos of tea a day during the ongoing drought season. I told them it was not possible and asked them whether the salaries of the management staff would be reduced when the crops drop,” he said.

The minister said the CWC, as one of the biggest trade unions in the estate sector, had the right to intervene when the workers were ill-treated.“It is not a go-slow campaign, but the workers are finding it difficult to pluck sufficient tea during the drought,” he said.

The Planter’s Association warned that in view of the financial difficulties in the industry, due to reduced tea prices, volatile market conditions in the Middle East and significant cost increase, any disruption could have adverse consequences not only on the industry, but also on the workers and the country’s economy.

In a statement, the association said: “the plantation industry is equipped with adequate dispute resolution mechanisms to address any dispute in the industry, in a democratic and transparent manner through dialogue, without resorting to abusive language, physical threats, work disruption, physical violence and destruction of national assets.”

Ceylon Planters Society Secretary Nihal Perera said they had referred the matter to the Ministry of Plantation Industries. But Ministry Secretary Malini Peiris said they could not intervene as it was largely a political dispute.

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