Unless the new wage bill is trimmed, the tea, cardamom and rubber crop sector will go downhill, says the United Planters Association of South India (UPASI). Kerala, which is the multi-crop plantation enclave of the country, with over 1 million families depending on this sector, will be the worst hit, the planters’ outfit has warned Kerala Government.
Last week, wages for tea had been fixed at the rate of R301 per day. For rubber and cardamom, the wages are R381 and R335, respectively. In the tea and coffee sector, the wage increase, along with statutory benefits, would result in an increase to R436 per day, while for rubber, the total daily wage including statutory benefits is R552 per day.
“The present wage increase of 30%-plus in tea is the highest ever, the last one being 23%, when the plantation commodity prices were ruling high. In a similar situation of low prices both in tea and rubber, the government, trade unions and the management had jointly agreed for a wage and DA freeze between 2002 and 2008,” says a statement by N Dharmaraj, president, UPASI.
The planters have called upon the state government to take note of the grave situation and “deliberate with the industry, ways and means of neutralising the huge additional financial burden that has to be borne by the plantation industry.”
According to UPASI secretary-general Ullas Menon, plantations have been taking care of the entire welfare facilities of the workers and their families, over and above what is provided in the Plantation Labour Act. Every plantation estate forms a self-contained community with its complement of housing colonies, bazaars, schools, hospitals, crèches etc., providing sanitary living conditions, supply of potable water and holistic health care, to the large population of employees and dependents, the planters’ outfit claims.
Dharmaraj adds that UPASI was not against paying higher wages, but the current economic realities coupled with the plethora of taxes and levies, does not make it a viable proposition. He cautions that the wage commitments forced upon the plantations, without considering the capacity of the industry to pay, will lead to the collapse of this sector.
At the present wage rate, the industry will incur huge losses besides drying up of credit avenues and in the process there could be delay in wage payments and some estates/companies may even default. Many plantations will be compelled to reduce the workforce to sustain themselves. All these would result in a permanent damage to this sector, says Dharmaraj.
Already, seven estates and 14 factories are lying closed. In the wake of this new additional wage increase, it is feared that more estate will close down leading to loss of employment and revenue.
Kerala, which currently produce around 67 million kg of tea, 68 thousand tonne of coffee and 5.65 lakh tonne of natural rubber, contribute about R13,243 crore to the exchequer. Dharmaraj points out that “unreasonable wage increase will erode the State’s role in plantation sector due to the losses in production, export and employment.