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Sri Lanka

Better conditions for Sri Lankan tea workers, urges Caritas

A rise in wages and better housing is needed for marginalized workers and their families

Better conditions for Sri Lankan tea workers, urges Caritas

A file image of housing for workers on a tea estate in Sri Lanka. Tea is one of the country's major sources of wealth but tea workers suffer from both low income and inadequate housing. (Photo by ucanews.com)

Caritas has urged the Sri Lankan government to increase the wages and housing rights for marginalized tea workers whose ancestors were brought from India by the British.

Tea production is one of the country's major sources of wealth but tea workers suffer from low income and inadequate housing.

"Tea workers don't have basic rights or facilities. Currently they are paid a daily wage of 450 rupees (US$3.20)," said Father Desmond Perera, director of Caritas Kandy, known locally  as the Social, Economic, Training Institute of Kandy.

"The housing for workers does not even meet preliminary needs; they still live in rows of workers' houses located in the middle of the plantation," said Father Perera who organized April 11 talks between the Sri Lanka's national dialogue minister, Mano Ganesan and 325 estate community leaders.

"We urge from the government to give at least 1,000 rupees as a daily wage," said the priest.

"Young people are leaving tea estates for better jobs and they do not want follow their elders' footsteps because there is a lack of job security, no health care, low wages and malnutrition," he said.

There are an estimated 500,000 plantation workers who live in houses on the tea estates where they work.

"Twelve families live in a small one-room house and there are no land deeds," said A. Dharshi who lives and works at an estate in Kandy.

She said that 12 families were given running water facilities by Caritas.

 

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Father Desmond Perera, director of Caritas Kandy, hands details about the plight of tea workers to Sri Lankan Minister of National Dialogue Mano Ganesan. (Photo by Caritas)

 

Historically cheap labor

Tea workers are mostly Tamil who descend from workers brought to Sri Lanka from India by the British during the 19th century to provide cheap labor on the estates.

Aruna Santha Nonis, a monitoring and evaluation officer with Caritas, said that because their ancestors were brought over by the English there remains a big question mark regarding their citizenship status.

"They do not enjoy the rights and privileges that are enjoyed by the people living outside of plantation areas in the country," said Nonis.

"The people living in plantation areas are given the identity of 'Indian Tamil,' which causes many difficulties to their children when they have to obtain certain facilities and services from the government," he said.

Watch this ucanews.com video about the conditions that the tea workers face in Sri Lanka.

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