Sri Lanka tea firms request PM’s intervention to stop violence, impunity
ECONOMYNEXT – An association representing manager of commercial tea and rubber plantations have asked of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to intervene after violence erupted amid allegations of politically connected union bosses being involved but no action being taken.
In the latest attack two employees of a regional plantation company (RPC) were hospitalized in a critical condition, the Planters’ Association said.
“This is now the third instance this year alone where the lives of RPC employees have been placed in serious and immediate danger,” Planters’ Association Secretary General, Lalith Obeyesekere said.
“We are concerned that an organized campaign of violence and intimidation is being unleashed by thugs who are inciting workers and non-workers in order to sabotage RPC tea production.”
Workers were damaging manager’s homes, destroying furniture and personal belongings, disconnecting water and electricity supply to factories and physically assaulting the managers, assistant managers and their families, the PA said.
A month before the February 17 attack, a mob incited a member of parliament representing a key trade union had assaulted three trainee assistant superintendents at Park Easte in Kandapola over a demand to convert a tea field into housing.
“It took over 5 hours to remove the assault victim from the premises and he remains hospitalized to-date,” the PA said. “Action against those who incited this harm is yet to be taken.”
Later in January 2021, in another estate in Bandarawela, a seemingly unconnected and equally merciless assault was conducted in the same way, the PA said.
“The company, legally obligated to complete the transaction, instituted a police complaint,” the PA said.
“We wonder how such a catastrophic breakdown of law and order is being allowed and why no meaningful action has yet been taken against those who are inciting violence on the estates.”
The latest violence in Alton Estate, under the Hayleys Plantations is connected to high level discussions taking place on worker earnings, between Trade Unions and the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, on behalf of the RPCs and initiated by the Ministry of Labour, the PA said.
Trade unions had declared a strike “to limit daily worker earnings to Rs. 1,000,” and a group of persons had halted work at a factory to stop 7,000 kilograms of leaf plucked before the strike from being made into to tea.
They had also stopped consignment of tea valued at 6 million rupees which was being shipped to a foreign buyer from leaving the factory. It had already been paid for, the firm said.
The company, legally obligated to complete the transaction, had complained to the police.
“What the authorities needs to know is that stoppage of movement of produce has far-reaching consequences and will greatly impact the export earnings, at a time when our Country is desperately in need of foreign exchange in-flow,” Obeysekera said.
“Unfortunately the bigger picture of losing foreign markets and foreign exchange revenue to the Country by blocking the produce to the auctions, will not only cripple the industry but cause an economic dent as well.”
Sri Lanka is facing foreign exchange shortages as the central bank is rejecting real bids at Treasuries auctions and printing large volumes of money.
The central bank’s stock of Treasury bills rose to 784 billion rupees on February 19, from 769 billion rupees a week earlier, after the latest failure to complete an auction.
The central bank has seen one of the biggest runs on its reserves in 2020, with the largest balance of payments deficit in its history. (Colombo/Feb19/2021)