Thursday, December 11, 2008


Women in plantation sector and ‘Tea Day’

International days (I.Ds) are celebrated throughout the year. The purpose of celebrating International days is to promote the life of people, remind people of the human values which are forgotten due to industrialisation and materialistic values, to enable people to think of their fellowmen who are effected in some way or other, and thereby make every person, every community and the every Government to be concerned and be accountable partners of development and well-being of the whole human society.

On December 15 the International Tea Day (I.T.D) is celebrated in Sri Lanka, India and all tea producing countries. There are millions and millions of people working in tea plantations in Sri Lanka, Asia and in many tea producing countries.

Except in few countries, in most of the tea producing countries the tea industry workers had lived like slaves. They were highly exploited in the economic, social and in other areas of life including employment.

The women in the industry lived a sub standed life compared to women in other sectors. No one can deny that although the plantation sector still remains the backbone of economy of the country. The people living within the sector remain a marginalized people and subjected to various kinds of discriminations. In this backdrop international Tea Day was declared on December 15, 2005 at the tea conference held in India, New Delhi. The objective of this day was to bring the problems and issues of the tea plantation workers at national and international level, to ensure a fair trade practices in the industry, to built solidarity among tea workers all over the world and also to stress for the importance of safeguarding the industry in the interest of all stakeholders including all tea producers specially the tea smallholders.

The celebration of the I.T.D during the last few years has built a sense of brotherhood and solidarity among all tea workers in the world and making them feel that they are not isolated within their countries. I.T.D was declared by stakeholders who are interested in the future of the industry and the welfare of the people working in it, but has still not gained recognition of the United Nations (UN).

The day needs to be celebrated continuously nationally and internationally and the relevant themes popularised in order to gain UN recognition. And when the I.T.D is recognised by the UN the tea producing countries including Sri Lanka would be required to pay more attention in sustaining the industry and showing more concern for, women and children who depend on the industry.

This year makes the fourth anniversary of the I.T.D. Plantation Sector Social Forum had ensured the celebration of the day continuously during the last four years. The general theme of the I.T.D is “Let us ensure a living wage for the plantation workers”. In the year 2006 too the same theme was highlighted and the Tea Day on December 15, 2006 coincided with the island wide work stoppage by the plantation workers demanding wage increase through the collective agreement.

The I.T.D celebrated in 2006 December at Hatton in this background drew more than 10,000 plantation workers which made the I.T.D popular and known among the plantation people. The third I.T.D was celebrated at Bandarawela. This year being the fourth anniversary the I.T.D is to be celebrated at Nawalapitiya. Although the main theme of the I.T.D is to ensure a living wage to the plantation workers, in order to popularize the various clauses in the New Delhi declarations sub themes are introduced every year. The theme for this tea day is “Let us promote women’s leadership in the plantation sector”.

At this stage it is appropriate to look into some of the clauses of the New Delhi declaration of the Tea Day with regard to women in the sector.

In short the Delhi declaration stressed that the women’s views needs to be recognised and respected and given due consideration. Violence against women should be ended. Women’s reproductive right and other rights need to be safeguarded. With the view to popularize these ideas the theme for this year is defined as “Let us promote women’s leadership in the plantation sector”.

In order to reduce violence against plantation women a clause stressing the appointment of women over women workers had been introduced into the collective agreement entered into few years ago between the trade unions and employer’s federations. Provision of common aminities in the working fields, facilities for women to receive their own wages, improved environment for women where they would be protected from sexual harassment and discriminations are matters that had been agreed upon among the parties. But most of these agreements remain a dead letter and constituent parties are conveniently avoiding to speak about them. “Tea Day” with its theme to promote women leadership will try to bring pressure on the relevant parties to implement these agreements.

Further, in Sri Lanka there are policies and mechanism in place for the development of women, safeguarding their rights and ensure their security. None of these services or its benefits reach the plantation women. Activating an advocacy program to ensure the Government’s women welfare services reaching the plantation sector is the other objective of celebrating Tea Day. In the meantime I.T.D is celebrated in India and other tea producing countries and processes are under way nationally and internationally to gain recognition for the Tea Day from the UN.

S. K. Chantrasekaran

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