Plantation protestors light lamps

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 21 February 2001, 21:43 GMT]
Sri Lanka's plantation sector workers lit lamps Wednesday night in Hatton, a large town in the island's tea producing central province, on the third day of a protest fast campaign demanding an increase on their current daily wage of 101 rupees (1.14 US Dollars). Hundreds of workers, mostly ethnic Tamils, joined the 'satyagraha' fast Wednesday afternoon despite being advised by their trade union, Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), that they should not stay away from work. The CWC is major coalition partner of the ruling People's Alliance (PA) government in Colombo.

Opposition trade unions in the plantations charged that the CWC is running with the hare and hunting with the hound by coaxing the workers against a general strike while staging the token protest with its pro-government officials and politicians ostensibly to demand higher wages for them.

A spokes person for the Marxist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna pointed out that the CWC and the PA averted a major shut down in the plantation sector on the eve of the polls to the Sri Lankan Parliament by promising to raise wages if elected.

The lamps were lit to mark the Tamil holy day of Maha Sivarathiri, a spokesman for the CWC told TamilNet.

Mr. Arumugam Thondaman, the Minister for Livestock and Estate Infrastructure Development, led the 'Satyagraha' protest.

Workers in Sri Lanka's tea plantations were given a raise of six rupees in January 2000 after a strike that threatened to paralyse the island's tea industry. A ten-day protest on the eve of the general elections in October, elicited a promise from Colombo for a further increase commensurate with the rising cost of living.

The CWC contained worker unrests and apprehensions over the privatisation of the state run plantation managements in 1993 by promising to grant land and provide housing for the resident labour force of this key sector of the Sri Lankan economy. Mr. Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman, the grandfather of Arumugam Thondaman, was a powerful cabinet minister in the United National Party government at the time.

An agreement between the CWC and the government was signed in 1993, guaranteeing a housing authority for the plantations and redistribution of redundant land on tea and rubber estates in the central province.

The agreement was never implemented although the CWC leader continued as an important and powerful ally of the UNP regime.

In 1994 when the People's Alliance came to power, Thondaman and his MPs, elected on the UNP list, crossed over to the government ranks in the Parliament. Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman died in 1999. His grandson Arumugam Thondaman succeeded him, despite opposition within the party.


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