Sri Lankan unions in closed-door discussions with plantation bosses
8 September 2018
Amid growing working-class anger over poverty-level wages and increased productivity demands, Sri Lanka’s plantation unions and the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) are holding backroom discussions over a new collective agreement. As in the past, plantation workers have been kept completely in the dark about these negotiations.
On August 18, Veerakesari, a Tamil-language daily, reported that EFC negotiators, representing 19 Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs), had categorically rejected any wage rise for plantation workers during the discussions. EFC officials called on the unions to help “protect the plantation industry from its crisis.”
Those involved in discussions include the leadership of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre (JPTUC). The CWC and JPTUC were allies of the government of former President Mahinda Rajapakse. The LJEWU is controlled by the ruling United National Party (UNP), led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Planters Association spokesman Roshan Rajadurai said the industry was incurring heavy losses and unable to give any pay increase. In 2016, the unions imposed the old agreement, set to expire in October, which included a paltry wage rise and a new regressive share-cropper system .
WSWS reporters contacted several union leaders last week to ask about their talks with the plantation bosses. LJEWU secretary Vadivel Suresh claimed that the unions were demanding a “reasonable” wage increase, in line with the cost of living. He then admitted, however, that the unions “have not decided the amount of the wage demand. We are waiting for the…