This is the second post in our three part series on the rights of Hill or Plantation Tamils. The first is available here. All three of these posts take material from a report by Home for Human Rights.
“Unfortunately, the importance of the tea industry to the Sri Lankan economy has not helped to secure a reasonable standard of living for most estate employees.” – Home for Human Rights
Under international law, the Government of Sri Lanka is under an obligation to ensure the reasonable treatment of workers. This is far from the case however, with plantation workers enduring a sense of indebtedness to the estate in which they work, which in turn promotes a vicious spiral of discrimination and poverty. Despite the fact that the 2003 Grant of Citizenship to Person’s of Indian Origin Act no.35 finally entitled the Central Hill Tamils to citizenship, a poor birth registration system means that a large number of workers are without birth certificates and thereby the necessary documentation required to apply for citizenship.
However, it cannot be said that citizenship alone will solve the Hill Tamil’s problems. Home for Human Rights reports that no efforts have been made by the Government of Sri Lanka to elevate their working conditions. Plantation workers receive no wage increases, thereby becoming consumed under the rising cost of living. This again reinforces their dependency upon the cruel plantation sector; crucial as it may be to the Sri Lankan economy. Indeed, the tea plantation industry in Sri Lanka is the third highest foreign exchange earner and provides Sri Lanka’s largest agricultural export.
Due to the culture of dependency and lack of education endured by the Hill Tamils, men and women are forced to endure horrific conditions at work; including the use of sexual harassment as a control tactic. Home for Human Rights reports that significant amount of women regularly tolerate such harassment within the workplace, as leaving the estate is far from simple. Indeed as a survey conducted by HHR showed most respondents’ freedom of movement outside of their estate was subject to authorisation by estate owners. 52% said that they were prevented from leaving the estate completely. Of course such a practice stands in direct contravention to the civil, political and human right of the “liberty and freedom of movement.”
It is time the government paid respect to the workers who maintain the strength of the tea industry which is so vital to the economy of Sri Lanka. Positive action to halt the endless cycle of entrapment and indebtedness must be started immediately. When will the Government of Sri Lanka appreciate its workers rather than address them as its subordinates?