Sri Lankan plantation workers demonstrate for higher wages
29 September 2018
Thousands of tea plantation workers took to the streets of Talawakelle town in the tea growing central highlands of Sri Lanka on 23 September to demand a wage increase. Workers from almost all the plantations in the area participated in the protest that brought Talawakelle town to a halt. Small business owners shut down their shops in support of the workers.
Workers chanted slogans denouncing the collective agreement as a “slave pact” and made clear that their salaries are grossly inadequate. They said that they do not earn enough to survive on or provide adequate daily meals for their families, let alone the cost of educating their children.
A public rally was held at the Talawakelle Urban Council playground following the demonstration. It was chaired by National Union of Workers (NUW) president P. Digambaram, who is also a government cabinet minister.
The protest was organised by seven unions, including the NUW, Upcountry People’s Front (UPF) and the Democratic People’s Front (DPF). UPF leader V. Radhakrishnan and DPF leader Mano Ganeshan are also government ministers.
S. Sritharan, a member of parliament for the Tamil National Alliance, was invited to address the protest in an attempt to bolster the unions. Echoing union officials, he told the meeting that the Sri Lankan president and prime minister had to intervene to secure a reasonable outcome for plantation workers.
The demonstration was organized, not to fight for decent pay for plantation employees, but to deflect workers’ rising anger over their poverty-level wages amid rising costs of living and declining social conditions.
Union officials attempted to sow illusions that the…