University students protest supporting plantation workers

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 19 December 2006, 02:24 GMT]
Large number of University of Colombo students held a protest rally Monday afternoon at 12:30 p.m near Thummulla junction in Colombo, in a show of support to demands for wage rise of the tea plantation Tamil workers, sources in Colombo said. The Students warned that if the government does not accede to the demands of the plantation workers the protest will spread to all the other universities.

Colombo protest
The students carried placards, shouted slogans and marched through the streets urging human Rights Groups to intervene immediately, and appealed to the Sri Lanka Government to resolve the situation.

The students said that for many years the workers have been exploited and the responsible unions should fight for the rights of the workers.

Mehala Shanmugam, Co-ordinator for Human Rights Studies, E.Thambiah Attorney-at-Law and Joseph Stalin, the President of Ceylon Teachers Union also took part in the protest meeting.

Meanwhile a number of government and private unions have warned that 131 Trade unions comprising of Harbour, Railway, Education, Fuel Supply, Health workers will also join in a mass protest, if the demands of the plantation workers are not met.

Colombo protest

A press conference to brief the media regarding the grievances of the plantations workers was held Monday morning at 10:30 a.m in the auditorium of the National Library in Colombo. Representatives of a number of trade unions attended the conference and a memorandum bearing their signatures was forwarded to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, sources said.

Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) parliamentarians Vasantha Samarasinghe, Piyasiri Wickremanayake, Member of parliament and deputy leader of Parliamentary group of JVP, Ramalingam Chandraekran and General secretary of Plantation Workers Front Sathasivam and a member of Central province Board Thihambaram also were present at the media conference.

Sathasivam, General Secretary of Plantation Workers Front spoke on the difficulties faced by the workers in the estates.

Excerps from his speech follow:

The Minister of Labour says that he is not responsible for this problem. His statement raises a doubt whether he is a representative of the people or the estate owners. The support for our struggle is gaining momentum across the country. The government must intervene in this matter.

The plantation workers are being paid the daily minimum wages of 135 Sri Lankan rupees. The joint agreement between the major trade unions and the Employers Federation expired on June 30. There was a need to raise the salary of workers after that date. Talks between the workers unions and the federation ended up in failure.

As a result the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) advised the workers to begin go slow campaign. After that the CWC and National Estate Workers union held talks with the Employers Federation, and that too failed,

The trade unions which were not signatories to the joint agreement, in a meeting held in Hatton, jointly called on the workers to stage protest. This resulted in a 12-day protest..

Meanwhile, the Minister of Labor Mr. Seneviratne stated that he was not responsible for arbitrating the dispute, and the matter has to be resolved between the estate owners and trade unions. When the minister’s statement was openly criticized by a number of trade unions , the government responded that workers will be paid a daily pay of Rs.250.

The workers however continue to demand that their daily wages be raised to Rs.300.


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