Monday, October 19, 2015
Modern day slavery in Sri Lanka’s Estate Companies
Sri Lanka’s Tea and Rubber Estate companies are in crisis. They have a huge labor shortage. That is because unlike in the past, the present Youth, the children of Estate labor, who live on estates in increasingly better living conditions, and who are getting an improved level of Education, are less likely to want to pluck Tea or tap Rubber.
They would rather be software engineers, go to universities or at worst go overseas and work as Housemaids for working conditions they believe outstrip their present possibilities in the Estates!
So the Estate Superintendents who are pressurized by their bosses to get labor to perform basic tasks have no option but to resort to threats to meet their targets! You just go to any muster at 5.30am in an Estate and I will bet that of the total potential labor force available, there is less than 25% turnout, as they have better alternatives.
What is worse even productivity of those who now come to work is far less than their forebears, as if now they pluck 20KG of tea, their mothers could easily pluck 60KG in their prime, contributing to the debilitating drop in labor productivity.
Add to this, the lower level of transplanting by the Estates, partly due to the lack labor even to transplant, or even heavily prune tea bushes, adds to the lower leaf count, so one cannot merely blame it on the workers only.
Talking about threats by the Estates, they refuse to do the paperwork for the youth to get their ID cards, as once an ID card is in one’s possession, it is like a passport out of the Estate, as they can just about go anywhere in Sri Lanka and look for a job that have pay and conditions better than what they have at home.
This problem is getting worse, and there is one solution that is being talked about, but which I believe is ALSO impractical. Closing unproductive plantations and moving the labor to more productive ones to perform the manual work. THIS IS ONLY possible if the workers opt to be transferred out of their generations homes to new permanent homes, something our near immoveable workforce refuse to do at any cost.