Labor Issue in Tea Plantation Sector in Sri Lanka

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Today, Sri Lankan Tea plantation sector is facing number of challenges like high cost of production, market price fluctuation, continuous increase of input (fertilizer, agro-chemicals) prices, labor scarcity, climate change etc. The labor scarcity or labor issue is one of main challenge face by the green tea leaf producers in Sri Lanka.

Most of other agricultural segments (Paddy, Spices, Coconut) have successfully mitigate this issue via investing on suitable machineries.  But Tea sector have not reached correct stage comparatively others. There might have number of reasons to lesser adaption to machinery of tea farmers. As example, Sri Lankan orthodox manufactures are still thinking of leaf standards can’t be match with plucking machines, government authorities still promoting hand plucking, lesser number of research and development on tea machinery, poor extension service on tea machinery and lesser private sector investment on tea machinery etc.  Therefore, green leaf producers or estate owners must find laborers for manual plucking. This behavior has created additional demand for hand pluckers that has created additional market demand for hand tea green leaf pluckers. Because of that cost of production has increased. According to the current cost of production data, more than 45% of the COP covered by the labor wages. Therefore, further increasing of the COP is no longer healthy for Ceylon Tea industry. So, we should have a strategic plan to face this critical issue with the sustainable manner.

Therefore, we should have good understand about factors affecting to labor market of tea plantation sector in Sri Lanka. So, I hope to discuss few of factors that can be impact on labor market in Ceylon Tea.

The fragmentation of Ceylon tea value chain has created various payment pattern options to capture the available labor force for their segment. Because of that some part of value chain shows comparatively higher attraction of labors than others. This imbalance labor supply throughout the value chain some part more labor attractive and profitable and other parts lesser attractive and less profitable. As example green leaf plucking. This article also discuss about labor issue related to green leaf producer in Sri Lanka.

More than 80% of labor component in tea is representing by women/female labors. Also, more than 95% Green leaf pluckers are female, they have specific skill and demand for this job. So, it has impact on gender balance as well as alternative labor options.

  1. Salary (income, target, pay scale, EPF, ETF)

The salary is one of main factor that workers are concerning these days due to availability different kind of labor options (ex: Garments) with having comparatively higher pay scale than tea sector. But, tea plantation sector can’t further increase labor wages to attract them because labor component already have come to peak of COP, so this is not good option for loss making plantation sector as well marginally profitable medium and small scale tea holdings sector in Sri Lanka. So as soon as possible Ceylon tea sector should change quality standard of green leaf and introduce suitable machinery for tea plantation sector. Otherwise entire industry will collapse in near example different payment options with different scale showing bellow.

i). Daily wages system where they have fixed pre-agreed amount for harvesters this can be vary estate to estate, area to area.

ii). Monthly salary with per day amount agreed by workers union, plantations companies and government with pre-defined time period to work.

iii). some estate pay fixed amount as a day norm with minimum target of quantity and additional harvest to the norm will be paid per kilogram basis.

iv). some estate they pay for their workers based on quantity like amount per kilogram. There are numbers of payment option available green leaf pluckers. also, this behavior has imbalanced sub sector of value chain.

  1. Recognition

The recognition green leaf harvesters is one of important factor that should be considered by estate owners in Sri Lanka. They should be treated as valuable and recognizable component of the value chain. Not having this motivation part of the labor management, it’s difficult to attract labor to plantation sector. But what happened in the field is just considering as casual labor. Now the time has come to change the mind set of estate and factory owners about labor and treat with recognizable way with uniform and another PPE.

  1. Transport

The lack of transport or unavailability of transport, or inaccessibility to the estate due poor roads discourages the women labors come to work daily. So, estate and plantation owners should focus on transport facility. Some successful plantations have experienced that giving daily transport to the labor have increase the participation than those are not giving.

  1. Family focus

Most of women in Sri Lanka are highly concern about family matters. So therefore, alternative laboring option must be created within plantation system without depend on traditional labor management system. As example, part time pluckers, flexible hour plucking, labor sharing, contract labor. There are some tea estates have shown good labor presence with having different labor options.

  1. Security (sexual and oral/physical harassment)

Due to majority of estate workers are women, security problems are also arising due to situated locations of the estates are likes hilly and forest area, remote area to the village, and isolated area from the village. So, this naturally created insecurity has discourage some women going away from the plantation sector. Sometimes, oral and physical harassment (especially oral harassment). Sexual harassment is not much common in present scenario, but it was comparatively higher in early stage in plantation was caused to discourage they women labor to the tea plantations.

  1. Heavy work (leaf transport)

Estate owners are expecting to do some heavy work from these women labour. they  have to pluck at least 25 Kgs of green leaf minimum per day and transport in to leaf collecting center this sometime might one or two kilometers from hilly land to collecting centers. This is kind of difficult work for women labour. Because of that they are unhappy to come and work in tea estate.  So, therefore estate and plantation owners should find alternative leaf transport mode than conventional to motivate women labor to the plucking fileds.

  1. Welfare and Motivation

Unavailability of good welfare system to pluckers, lesser motivational activities have discouraged pluckers to come for tea plantation to work. So, tea plantations and estate owners should initiate good welfare system and motivation system within the plantation to motivate and encourage the workers to come to tea. The apparel industry as one main competing industry for women labor market is giving good transport facility, uniform, good recognition, good salary, meal and tea create good attitude, training them continuously, have good welfare system, ETP and other salary benefits, and many mores to encourage the workers to their industry in Sri Lanka

  1. Trainings

Majority of labour they are doing same work over many years because of that they are feeling kind of unhappy and lethargy about their work. But estate owners are not much concern to training them and develop their knowledge and skill about their job and family life. Some estate owners have developed their labor force in different way to increase their family income by encouraging family farming like concepts.

  1. Climate

Most of the districts which are having tea plantations are receiving higher rainfall than non-tea area of the country. So, they have to spend majority of works days with the rain. This is kind of unpleasant to women to work with rain time because of that they will discourage their presence in tea plantation and try to find other labor option than plucking green leaves. Estate and plantation owners must concern about personal protection equipment that will encourage the participation of women in to tea.

There are numbers of factors those can be badly impacted to discourage women labor to tea plantation sector. So, we should deeply understand about those issues and answer proactively to attract the women labor to tea plantation in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Tharaka Jayasinghe

Author: Mr. Tharaka Jayasinghe is Manager-Advisory and Extension Div at A Baur & Co. (Pvt.) Ltd.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of Agrigate Global.