by Remy Jayasekere, Chartered Engineer
In the recent past there have been several articles written opposing the government decision to increase the wages of tea estate workers. On November 21, the Island newspaper published an article titled “Tea industry experts willing to learn the magic formula …” written by a spokesman for the Planters’ Association. Its theme was that under the present conditions it is not possible to increase wages.
There is a 1,000 acre tea plantation called Nerada in far north Queensland in Australia (neradatea.com.au). It produces 6.6 million kg of leaf and 1.6 million kg of made tea annually. Total labour force is less than 50 and the factory is manned by four people in a shift. The minimum hourly wage in Australia is about AUD 20 or around SLR 2,500 which works out to SLR 20,000 for an eight-hour day. Nerada pays above minimum wages so that they can retain talent.
Leaf plucking is done by one machine for the whole plantation – therefore there is only one tea plucker at any time and plucking is a 24-hour operation. The plantation is family-owned and they have developed all the technology themselves – no Tea Research Institutes or Tea Boards.
If Nerada can pay SLR 20,000 per person per day why can’t Sri Lanka pay SLR 1,000 per day? The answer is simple – at Nerada 50 people produce 1.6 million kg of made tea annually which works out to 32,000 kg per person annually. This is worth about AUD 150,000. Pay the worker AUD 50,000 per year and the company has AUD 100,000 per person per year for other things.
This has been achieved through innovation which has resulted in mechanisation and automation of processes. SL has not innovated, continuing to do things the way they have been done for ages. This could be the net result of many decisions taken in the past such as nationalisation of the plantations, regional plantation companies (RPC) not owning the plantations, therefore milking them rather than developing them and general backwardness of the country in developing and employing modern technology.
RPCs have managed the plantations for more than 25 years and if they are interested in developing the plantations, they had ample time to do so. However, they have chosen to remain in the dark ages without any innovative thinking and actions and now are arguing against wage increases. SLR 1,000 is around USD six per day which is not much higher than the extreme poverty level defined by the UN. The actions of the government, the plantation companies and the planters have made sure the workers remained in poverty during the past and now want to ensure that continues into the future.
In the 1980s Singapore had the problem of being turned into a large garment manufacturing centre which they did not want. The government increased the wages of garment factory workers – the message was innovate and produce more per worker or close down. History shows they all closed down and engaged in other pursuits. The Sri Lankan government should be congratulated for taking this bold step of increasing wages – the message is clear, innovate or we will change the agreements. How can you let the RPCs hold a large proportion of the population as well as the economy of the country hostage.
What is stopping us from using a company such as Nerada as the benchmark and trying to achieve what they have achieved. Let me list a few steps.
1. Green leaf – Nerada produces 6600 kg per acre per year. Considering it is one plantation, as a country can we aim for at least half of that. I am sure everyone knows what to do – the list is long. Definition of innovation – 5% is knowing what to do and 95% is doing it.
2. Plucking – This possibly is the highest cost item in the production of tea in Sri Lanka. Two excuses are given for not mechanising plucking – the terrain does not allow for mechanised plucking and mechanised plucking reduces the yield. New replanting areas should have the terrain modified to enable mechanised plucking. The myth of reduced yield does not stand against evidence from Nerada
3. Factory – There are more than 700 tea factories in Sri Lanka employing large numbers of people. Factories in some areas cannot find enough people to man them. Most of these people are used for transporting material from one process or machine to another and in some cases to watch and operate machines. At Nerada all these operations are automated and only four people are required in a shift. Why not scrap the existing factories and build new ones – the payback will be very quick. One of the big problems in the past was trying to modify existing factories which limits possibilities. Do not think outside the box. Think there is no box.
4. Then there are other minor things that go beyond what Nerada has done – using solar energy for the driers and using dehumidified air for withering. Nerada has no need for producing dehumidified air as the humidity in that area is very low.
5. The workers cannot do anything about these. The government, RPCs and management have to take the initiative to improve our plantations. There are no bad soldiers – only bad officers
I believe I have made a case for increasing wages of plantation workers and hope the RPCs will look at this in a positive manner.
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Unlimited music streaming platform in Sri Lanka
SLT-Mobitel, the nation’s ICT and Telecommunications Service Provider recently partnered with Spotify, to mark their launch in Sri Lanka. Spotify is a paid premium music streaming app which allows subscribers to listen to music to their hearts content. Both, SLT-Mobitel Post-Paid and Pre-Paid customers will now be able to enjoy Spotify by activating a monthly recurring subscription or one-time subscription plan and access unlimited music streaming and downloading facilities.
The subscription charges will get added to the user’s customary billing, where payment will be deducted in real time. Starting from the payment date, the user will be able to access Spotify and download their favourite songs, for the next 30 days. Users who sign up for their first monthly subscription will receive an additional one month, courtesy of Spotify. The one-month subscription plan is not applicable with one-time subscription plans. SLT-Mobitel data rates, depending on the user’s respective broadband charges, will apply.
Spotify also has some exciting features that will provide SLT-Mobitel customers with the opportunity to listen to ad-free music, access millions of uninterrupted music under one platform, play any song they like, anywhere they go, and also be able to enjoy their music offline.
SLT-Mobitel customers can select their preferred premium package under four categories; Individual, Duo, Family, Student. Each category has recurring and non-recurring plans. After one month of free streaming, the package will activate once the offer period terminates. While both, the Individual and Student premiums are limited to one account user, the Duo package offers two accounts and the Family premium is accessible through six accounts. To view Spotify plans, users can log on to https://spoti.fi/3aLWvce
Sri Lanka using ‘sovereign power’ over economy: CB Governor
by Sanath Nanayakkare
Anyone conversant with the elements of a political economy would know that Sri Lanka is using its ‘sovereign power’ to manage the different dynamics of the economy in a sustainable manner, Professor W. D Lakshman Governor of the Central Bank said on Wednesday.
“Some critics are saying that we adopt a so-called modern monetary theory. That’s not the case. In fact, Sri Lanka is using its sovereign power in a number of economic aspects to honour its external debt repayment commitments as well as to reduce its debt burden in the medium term as well as achieve resilient growth in the medium to long term, he said.
“We make policy decisions to boost our gross foreign reserves, meet our external debt servicing, to facilitate monetary expansion, to boost our GDP growth, to strengthen our current account balance and manage our domestic and external economic variables in a sustainable manner. This is not a modern monetary theory. This is an age-old tool used by central banks around the world when the circumstances demand it, he said.
“Certain trade-offs will be necessary when dealing with an economy which has a big fiscal gap to bridge. There are efforts to push Sri Lanka towards the IMF again which would in turn have influence on our policymaking. We have taken policy measures to stabilize the economy and we have adequate reserve levels to meet our debt repayments. Meanwhile, we are in negotiations with overseas central banks and multilateral agencies to further boost our reserve level and it would materialise within a matter of weeks,” he noted.
“One of the tools the Central Bank has introduced is in respect of repatriation of export proceeds into Sri Lanka and conversion of such proceeds into Sri Lankan rupees in order to strengthen the foreign exchange situation of the country,” he said.
The Governor made these remarks while delivering the keynote speech at a webinar organised by the Veemansa Initiative led by its Managing Director Luxman Siriwardene – the former Executive Director of Pathfinder Foundation.
The webinar revolved round the topic ‘External debt situation in Sri Lanka: Are we heading for a resolution or crisis?’
Professor Sirimal Abeyratne, Prof. Sumanasiri Liyanage, Dr. Nishan de Mel and Dr. Ravi Liyanage were the other speakers on the panel.
CSE on the rebound; indices close positive
By Hiran H.Senewiratne
CSE produced signs of a rebound yesterday with both indices closing positive, though turnover remained low. Central Bank Governor W.D Lakshman’s recent statement on managing foreign reserves gave some boost to the market yesterday, stock market analysts said.
The index experienced a zigzag movement within the early hours of trading; thereafter, it recorded a slight up-trend as it reached its intraday high of 7,439. Later, the market witnessed a down-trend at mid-day, followed by a sideways movement and closed at 7,372, gaining 43 points during the month of February, market sources said.
It is said the banking sector dominated turnover with a contribution of considerable parcel trades in Sampath Bank, Commercial Bank and HNB.
Further, the Commercial Bank’s impressive quarterly results during the recent turbulent period also built investor confidence. Commercial Bank was able to register a18 percent net interest income when other banks were reporting a decline. Its share price increased by Rs. 3 or 3.5 percent. On the previous day, its shares started trading at Rs. 85 and at the end of the day they moved up to Rs. 88. Due to the positive growth results, the bank announced a Rs. 4.40 dividend per share, plus a Rs. 2 script divergent for every share.
Further, Sampath Bank shares also appreciated in both crossing and retail. In crossings its shares appreciated by Rs. 1.At the end of the day they moved up to Rs. 154.50. In the retail market, its shares moved up by Rs. 2 or 1.3 percent. Previously, its shares fetched Rs. 154 and at the end of yesterday they moved up to Rs. 156.
Amid those developments, both indices moved upwards. The All Share Price Index went up by 104.48 points and S and P SL20 rose by 67.78 points. Turnover stood at Rs. 3 billion with four crossings. Those crossings were reported in Sampath Bank, where 3.9 million shares crossed for Rs. 602.2 million, its share price being Rs. 154.50, HNB 375,000 shares crossed for Rs. 39.4 million, its shares traded at Rs. 105, Pan Asia Power 9.5 million shares crossed for Rs. 33.2 million, its shares traded at Rs. 3.50 and Access Engineering 1.2 million shares crossed for Rs. 28.2 million; its shares traded at Rs. 24.
In the retail market top five companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Expolanka Rs. 450 million (10 million shares traded), JKH Rs. 205 million (1.3 million shares traded), Browns Investments Rs. 199 million (34.9 million shares traded), Sampath Bank Rs. 191 million (1.2 million shares traded) and Dipped Products Rs. 137.7 million (2.8 million shares traded). During the day 101 million share volumes changed hands in 18046 transactions.
During the day, Expolanka, the biggest contributor to the turnover, saw its share price appreciating by Rs. 6.20 or 15 percent. Its share price quoted on the previous day was Rs. 41 and at the end of trading yesterday it moved up to Rs. 47.
Sri Lanka’s rupee quoted wider at 193.50/195.50 levels to the US dollar in the spot next market on Thursday while bond yields remained unchanged, dealers said. The rupee last closed in the spot market at 194.50/195.00 to the dollar on Wednesday.