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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s large tea farms say workers who have opted to use a small-holder based model linked to tea prices and plucked leaf are earning more money which is automatically linked to global prices and inflation.

The current model is based on a daily wage where workers are under a supervisor on set hours of working which the plantation claim to be a ‘colonial’ era relic. But under the smallholder model which has emerged, workers have flexi hours and are paid on the volume plucked.

Senaka Alawattegama, Chairman of the Planters Association representing manager of commercial tea farms say already about 20 percent of the workers have opted for the model and are earning around 50,000 to 60,000 rupees a month with some going to around 80,000 rupees.

Tea plantations are paying more per kilogram than smallholders he said.

“In addition, we pay EPF and ETF,” said.

When the price per kilogram is linked to the auction price, workers get an inflation or dollar linked wage as well as output.

Workers have started to move to the inflation and production linked model on their own, he said. Each worker is assigned a plot to work on.

More than 20 of the output now come from workers in the new model, he said.

“If workers are paid based on how much they pluck and how much that harvest receives at auction then their compensation would be dynamically adjusted,” according to the Planters’ Association.

“Had we implemented such a system – in line with what RPCs had proposed even during the last wage negotiations, there would have been no need for the State to intervene in wage setting.

“Instead, wages would be linked directly to the price and quantity of tea sold at auction.”

Roshan Rajadurai ex-Chairman of the Planters’ Association says young persons who have worked in cities and come back after getting married are opting for the new model.

One attraction is there is no supervisor (kankani) and they can work independently managing housework and children. The estate continues to provide childcare.

When working in a ‘gang’ more skilled workers under peer pressure not to pluck more than their seniors and also cannot finish up their work and go home early, as those on the new model are doing, Rajadurai said.

The PA claims that in the small holder sector a worker usually plucks about 30 kilograms a day. In India it is 40 kilograms.

Under the smallholder model a person plucking 18 kilogram could get 50,000 to 60,000 rupees, according to the Planters. But workers typically pluck 20 to 30 kilograms.

The most skilled workers can pluck 35 kilograms. (Colombo/Feb02/2023)

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