ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government will allocate 1.2 billion rupees in the forthcoming budget to pay an extra 50 rupees a day to unionised labour on tea estates, Minister of Plantation Industries Naveen Dissanayake said.
The government decided to step in and top up worker wages following demands from politicians and union leaders supporting the regime, he told a news conference.
About 140,000 unionised workers will benefit from the 50-rupee hike, which will be in addition to the 700 rupee basic wage agreed on between unions and regional plantations companies represented by the Planters’ Association (PA) in a recent collective agreement.
Previously, estate workers got 500 rupees a day as basic pay.
Dissanayake said the 40 percent hike in basic wages in the collective agreement was a big increase but politicians who were government ministers and leaders of unions not part of the deal had wanted more.
“The PA said they can’t raise wages further for economic and legal reasons, as the collective agreement had been signed,” Dissanayake said.
“We had talks with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe this morning and it was decided to give 50 rupees more per worker from government funds which will be announced in the budget.”
For the wage hike, Sri Lanka Tea Board funds will be given as a loan to the government which will repay the money later, he said.
“The 50 rupee per day per worker payment is outside the collective agreement – it is a budgetary provision which will be only for one year. We can’t pay forever,” Dissanayake said.
The 50 rupee extra pay will be given only to workers on tea estate, and not cultivating other plantation crops like rubber and coconut.
“These are public funds,” Dissanayake said. “It is a political decision. Sri Lanka is a highly politicised country – everything is based on politics.”