150 years of Ceylon Tea: A day in the life of a plantation worker

Saraswathi's story. Image via Groundviews.

This post, which contains a video by Selvaraja Rajasegar, originally appeared on Groundviews, an award-winning citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka. An edited version is published below as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.

38-year-old Saraswathi wakes at 5:30 am to send her children to school before she heads to work.

Saraswathi’s story highlights some of the challenges faced by the Malaiyaha (plantation) Tamil community, who have lived and worked in Sri Lanka for over 150 years.

Parents often find it difficult to provide the meals required for children under the government’s stipulated school-feeding plan — the roti (bread) they eat regularly has almost no nutritional value, but is frequently the only thing they can afford.

The Sri Lankan tea industry employs (directly or indirectly) over 1 million people. Many of the 500,000 tea estate workers are Tamils descended from cheap laborers brought to Sri Lanka from India by the British colonial rulers in the 19th century, and more than half of the workers are women.

The tea estate workers have been calling for an increase in their daily basic wage to Rs. 1000 (US$ 5.50) for years. The Collective Wage Agreement – between trade unions and Regional Plantation Companies – was recently signed, which set the daily basic wage at Rs. 700 (US$ 3.90). This has been met with widespread strikes by estate workers as well as solidarity protests in Colombo.

Regional Plantation Companies say that providing Rs. 1000 (US$ 5.50) per working day is impossible. Although Ceylon Tea is one of Sri Lanka’s top exports, the industry has suffered heavy losses for a number of reasons, including climate change. However, as Saraswathi’s story shows, the wages she earns are nowhere near enough to bear the costs of providing for her family, and increasingly, the younger generation of estate workers are forced to leave and look for work elsewhere.

Watch the video:

சரஸ்வதியின் ஒருநாள் கதை

சரஸ்வதியின் ஒருநாள் கதை maatram.org/?p=7508 #MalayagaTamil

Posted by Maatram on Tuesday, February 5, 2019

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