Management lavish with top brass - plantation workers paid a
pittance - State Minister Radhakrishnan
The Political leader of the Upcountry People's Front (UPF) Velusamy
Radhakrishnan MP who is to take over as the State Minister of Education
under the new government told the 'Sunday Observer' in an interview that
he would carry out his responsibility with focus on the
educationally-lagging plantation community whom he represents.
He also explained the reasons which prompted a large majority of the
plantation community to vote for President Maithripala Sirisena at the
January 8 Presidential poll and the requests his party had put forward
to the government on behalf of them.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: A large majority of the plantation community voted for
President Maithripala Sirisena at the January 8 presidential poll. What
are the reasons do you attribute for the victory?
A: Many of the primary demands of the plantation people,
specially individual houses and lands for them, were not fulfilled on a
priority basis under the 10-year rule of the previous government.
In the run- up to the presidential poll, the incumbent administration
unequivocally agreed to do away with the 200-year old Line Room System
and replace them with decent individual houses for the plantation people
and also to allot seven perches of land for each family.
While this was the main factor that prompted the plantation community
to decide in favour of President Maithripala , there are also other
The sky rocketing cost of living and livelihood problems are the two
other important reasons. They need about Rs.1200 per day to purchase
their day-to-day basic consumer requirements, mainly food items such as
rice, lentils, coconut and wheat flour. Their wages are not in keeping
with the rising COL index.
The UPF took the decision prior to all other plantation TU-cum-political-parties
to support the common candidate.
The leader of the Democratic People's Front (DPF) Mano Ganeshan was
the only exception. We decided on seeking a change of administration
taking into consideration the instances of HR violations, nepotism,
family rule and the growing tendency towards totalitarianism.
The UPF also released a media release on this matter. We put forward
many demands on behalf of the plantation people.
Aside from individual houses and seven perches of land, we had put
forward as our demands the creation of new Pradeshiya Sabha divisions
and Grama Niladhari divisions for the plantation workers, establishment
of a university, establishment of industrial estates for creating more
employment opportunities for the community and enhanced infrastructure
for the plantation sector.
We also put forward as our demand the creation of a Plantation
Community Development Authority.
Although the biennial Collective Agreement for wage increase to the
plantation workers has been in existence, the workers are not getting an
increase commensurate with the rising cost of living. So we would insist
on the government's intervention at the appropriate stage.
Together with National Union of Workers' (NUW) leader P. Digambaram
who has been appointed Minister of Estate Infrastructure Development and
the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) General Secretary K.
Velautham who is the State Minister of Plantation Industries, the UPF
will lay the foundation during the period of the 100 day program for
achieving our targeted goals for the socio-economic welfare of the
Q: As State Minister of Education what are your specific
objectives towards the educational uplift of the plantation community?
A: I held the portfolio of Tamil Education when I was Minister
of the Central Provincial Council and I know what exactly to be done for
the educational uplift of the community.
There are many graduates in the plantations who are still unemployed.
We would think in terms of appointing them as graduate teachers for
the plantation sector. More Tamil schools have to be started in the
Sabaragamuwa, in Kalutara and in Badulla because there are no adequate
number of Tamil schools.
Some of the schools in the plantation areas have to be upgraded as
Arrangements are underway to appoint about 3100 Teacher Assistants.
To bring the plantation children on part with the children of the other
communities, it is necessary to provide more laboratories to the
plantation schools and also appoint teachers to teach Science and Maths.
More computers have to be provided to the schools for imparting IT
In the long run it would also become necessary to start special
science colleges for them. Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe has agreed that
these are important requirements for the educational uplift of the
The plantation community very much deserves some special arrangements
for their educational uplift in the context of the fact that educational
facilities reached them only after 1977 although it reached all other
communities as far back as 1948 because they were defranchized , were
under the dominance of the foreign plantation managements with no access
to proper schools and were denied many civic rights, including the right
Q: Does the government have programs to ensure the
sustainability and development of the plantation industry?
A: NUW leader P. Digambaram is now the Minister of Estate
Infrastructure Development while UNP stalwart Lakshman Kiriella is the
Minister of Plantation Industries. General Secretary of the pro-UNP
Lanka Jathika Estate Workers' Workers Union (LJEWU) K.Velautham is the
State Minister of Plantation Industries.
I am sure they are working on well-designed programs of the
government for the long-term sustainability and development of the
plantation industry. Improving the standard of living of the plantation
workers by paying them wages commensurate with the rising cost of living
and decent houses, in place of the line-rooms, will also contribute to
the sustainability and development of the industry.
The plantation management companies which spend lavishly on their
management staff should think in terms of the welfare of the workers.
They should properly utilise the government's subsidies for the
development of the industry.
I think that handing over suitable proportions of the tea lands of
all ailing estates to the respective workers and to the tea small
holders for development will also help towards the long-term
sustainability of the industry.