A reasonable request | Daily News


A reasonable request

The issue of estate workers’ wages has cropped up yet again with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa taking up the cause of this largely marginalized community who nevertheless had contributed immensely towards the country’s economy.

According to a news story we carried yesterday, Premier Rajapaksa has called on the plantation company owners to make proposals within the next few weeks on increasing the estate sector workers wages to Rs.1,000 per day.

The demand was originally made by the Ceylon Workers Congress and formed one of the key promises made during the Presidential Election by the two main candidates. The request, on the face of it, is quite reasonable given the high living costs and trying conditions under which the estate community members work.

The CWC demand is for a Rs.1,000 wage hike by adding the price share supplement, productivity incentive and attendance incentive to the day’s basic wage of Rs.700. Therefore there is no reason for the company owners to complain since this will mean an increase in production and in turn additional profits.

True, the plantation companies were badly hit by the Coronavirus pandemic with exports coming to a standstill. There is also increase in the cost of production due to the rise in the rates elsewhere such as transport costs. One may argue that time should be given for the companies to recover from the blow before wage increase demands are put forward.

But from the point of view of the estate workers it could be said that this segment had been living under harsh conditions for long years, being a community that had been exploited by crafty politicians for their own ends.

Not just their daily wages the estate community deserve emancipation in other areas too. They still live in veritable hovels called line rooms and the estate children take after their elders and parents in sticking to plucking with no life beyond the estates.

Schools lack even the basic facilities like buildings, toilets and children study in makeshift classrooms. Alcoholism is rampant in the estates. Attention should be paid by the authorities to the basic needs of the estate community. Their fate should not be left in the hands of plantation sector politicians and union leaders who wish their community to live in perpetual ignorance devoid of an education so they would be easy to exploit for their personal gain.

It is time that the estate youth are given a sound education so that they may venture far instead of being condemned to a life of slavery and exploitation. The Government should be commended for its plans to commence a fully fledged university in the estate sector. This would definitely encourage the young to give a serious thought to educating themselves and go places in life.

Estate housing is another area where more attention is needed. Large families are condemned to live in the cramped confines of line rooms under squalid and inhuman conditions. Decent housing should be offered to these denizens, ideally like housing schemes that are seen elsewhere.

The worth of this community deserves appreciation for their immense contribution in bringing foreign exchange to the country. They should not be allowed to fend for themselves at the mercy of politicians. Instead all efforts should be made to improve their standards of living and attention paid to their welfare, and the education of their children which is the only way of redeeming them from their backward, regressive mentality.

Tackling the human-elephant conflict

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s determined efforts to tackle the human-elephant conflict should receive the support and cooperation of all concerned, given the serious proportion the problem has assumed.

Hardly a day passes without television showing attacks carried by elephants in far-flung villages and the plight of the people forced to live amidst these beasts.

Like the Premier rightly pointed out, it is unplanned development that has led to the encroachment of elephants into human settlements and killing their occupants.

Forests have been denuded for development projects, often for building hotels inside forests mostly with political backing. The forest cover which stood at 40 percent half a century ago had today dwindled to less than 20 percent. How then will elephant habitats survive? Where can they go when their natural dwellings have been cleared?

Tree planting campaigns under the patronage of politicians in cities and schools is a futile exercise without first taking steps to protect forests. What is needed most is a swift reforestation programme to secure our lost forest cover. The destruction of forests have not only brought with it the human-elephant conflict but also affected the ecological balance leading to severe droughts– the drying waterways in the once gushing streams in the hill country bearing witness to this.

All development that necessitates forest destruction should be halted forthwith and nature’s bounty preserved for the future generations of this country.

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