For Sri Lanka’s 300,000 Tamil tea pluckers and plantation workers, empowerment means much more than merely changing laws. It means improving their daily living and working conditions. It means ensuring that they know their rights as Sri Lankan citizens. Most of all it means giving them the opportunities to shape their own futures.
WUSC brings together workers, plantation management, unions, local NGOs and government departments to take steps to:
- improve the quality of life of plantation workers and their families;
- help improve labour relations and boost productivity and profitability for plantation companies;
- strengthen local partners and workers groups to implement changes which they have deemed a priority;
- obtain basic identity documents like birth certificates or national identity cards, which enable rights such as opening a bank account, enrolling in school or traveling without fear of being arrested.
Priorities and perceptions of the workers, the Estate management and the Plantation Companies do not always align. As a result, we are working continuously with all stakeholders to ensure positive impact for the beneficiaries by promoting the win/win aspects of the program.
The Tamil plantation workers brought to Sri Lanka from India in the late 1880s were generally confined to the estates they worked on. Plantation companies, first British and now locally-owned, were responsible for providing social services like housing, water and healthcare. Not surprisingly, estate residents became highly dependent on their employers for many of their basic needs and, with limited opportunity to interact with other Sri Lankans; they became socially and economically isolated.
Although Sri Lankan law now grants plantation workers full citizenship rights, low self-esteem, poor levels of education and language barriers often prevent them from fully understanding or exercising these rights. Schools are often under-staffed and estate children have few role models for alternative occupations, further perpetuating a cycle of dependency, isolation and vulnerability. Improving the lives of plantation residents is a priority for the Sri Lankan government.
Tea is one of Sri Lanka's most important agricultural exports but faced with growing competition, the country's share of the international tea market has been steadily decreasing in recent decades. This challenge, coupled with the growing reluctance of many young people to become tea pluckers like their parents, is forcing plantation companies to find new ways to increase productivity, improve working and living conditions and offer estate youth more appealing job opportunities.
WUSC's Plantation Communities Project II (PCP) is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)