Plantation Wrokers


EXPORTING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE FROM THE ANCIENT PERIOD AND TEA EXPORT SINCE THE BRITISH RULE IN SRI LANKA

The Sri Lankan kings gave lands to individuals to eke out a living. Most of them produced agricultural produce for food consumption. Some produced Coffee, Spices, (specially Cinnamon) and Coconut, which were collected by some merchants and exported to European and Middle Eastern Countries. This is proved by the Portuguese when they first landed in Sri Lankan soil in the year 1505. They happily announced that "We have eventually landed in the Cinnamon Isle". Which echo's in our ears even today.

The Portuguese and Dutch when they ruled the country started large cinnamon gardens in Sri Lanka. When the British took over the Island they extended the boundaries from the Maritime Provinces to the central hills and took over the entire Island in 1815.

They abolished the system of "Rajakariya" and introduced the "Hire and Fire" system. They brought new laws changing the former practices specially of the possession of land. The most destructive law was the Crown Lands (Encroachment) Ordinance No. 12 of 1840 which deals with the following four major points.

I. All lands to which the user could not prove legal title or produce deeds were deemed to be the property of the Crown.

II. The user if he fails to prove legal title became an "Encroacher" even if he was cultivating from the inception.

III. By this law the user was denied his old rights of cultivation.

IV. A catholic right was inherited by the Crown.


By this all the uncultivated lands, Jungle, Forest and Encroached lands became the property of the Crown.

Then the British rulers sold the lands at very minimum prices of fifty cents (0/50 cts) an acre which was at that time five shillings. We have proof that some of the British higher officials bought these lands and started cultivation. Some of them are:-

Governor Barnes a coffee estate called "Raja Tottam" in 1825.

The Chief Justice Sir Anthony Oliphant an estate in Nuwera Eliya.

The Arch Bishop of Colombo Rev.J.M.C.Glannie in Pussellawa.

  • The Rt. Hon. J.S. Mackenzie Governor ................................................................................. 1120 acres.
  • The Hon. W.O.Carr Puisne Justice and Capt. T. Skinner Commissioner of Roads .... 862 acres.
  • F.N. Noris Surveyors General .................................................................................................. 762 acres.
  • G.Turnour Govt. Agent Central Province and acting Colonial Secretary ......................... 2217 acres.
  • H. Wright and G.Bird District Judge ......................................................................................... 1751 acres.
  • Sir Arbuthnot Commander of force and Capt. Wiston Additional District Judge ............ 855 acres.
  • T. Oswin District Judge .......................................................................................................... 544 acres.
  • G.R.Buller, Later Govt. Agent .................................................................................................. 765 acres.
  • Capt. Layard and other ........................................................................................................... 2264 acres.
  • P.W. Wede House Govt. Agent and Asst. Colonial Secretary ............................................. 2135 acres.

(Ferguson's Directory1825 - 1875)


Some of the land owners with the new law provision and some of the Sri Lankan Citizens who were closer to the British were able to purchase land at this price. The Natives who owned land were 100 Sinhalese, 40 Chettys, 25 Moors and Malays and 25 Tamils. (Ferguson's Directory 1825 - 1875)

In the year 1867 "James Taylor who was known as the Father of Tea Industry in Ceylon" commercially cultivated ten acres (10 acres) of Tea in Sri Lanka. In this period there was an attack of "Blight" of coffee plants and the planters were compelled to change their coffee plantations to Tea. The Tea Plantations in 1867 of ten acres gradually grew to 611941 acres (six hundred eleven thousand nine hundred and forty one acres) in year 1979. (Ferguson's Directory 1980)

With this growth of Tea plantations the need to work in the plantations too emerged. The Sri Lanka labour were not prepared to work in the plantations due to various reasons mainly they had their own land and they harvested their food crops and they had an extreme displeasure over the taking of their cultivated land under the Crown lands (Encroachment) Ordinance No: 12 of  1840. Therefore, the British Government wanted to bring in new labour to the plantations. The idea was to bring Chinese, but as the travel was difficult at that time, they brought the "Indian Labour".

There were three categories of Tea plantations in Sri Lanka.

I. The Sterling Company (The British owned Companies)

II. The Rupee Company (The Sri Lankans Companies)

III. The Small Holdings (The individual small owned plantations)

In the Year 1972 with the full implementation of the Land Reforms Law No: 01 of 1972 about 130 000 (One hundred and thirty thousand) hectares of Tea 64 000 (Sixty four thousand) hectares of Rubber and 22 000 (Twenty two Thousand) hectares of Coconut land were taken over from the Sterling and Rupee companies and handed over to the Janatha Estate Development Board (JEDB) and the Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporations (SLSPC) for administration and management.

In 1984 in Sri Lankan plantation history a change took place due to the "The Women year" when the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union negotiated with the President, His Excellency J.R.Jayawardena to grant equal wages to the plantation women. On 24th April 1984 His Excellency granted for the first time in the whole world equal wages for plantation women.

The plantation management by the two state sector authorities was miserable and every month the government was granting then large sums of money. This was clearly seen in the late 1980s and of beginning 1990s. Therefore, on the 03rd June 1992 Government signed an agreement with 23 Sri Lankans Private Plantation Companies and handed over the management and administration keeping the land under the LRC law under the government.

The powerful Plantation Trade Unions got together and entered into collective agreements with the 21 companies which have Tea and Rubber Estates and the other 2 coconut estates companies. The Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union is a party to this collective agreement and we signed the agreements every two years. The collective agreements are signed with the JEDB and SLSPC too. We were able to meet the Hon. Minister of labour and extend the collective agreement to the trade by gazette notification and the entire plantation workers were enjoying the agreement facilities.

We the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union is moving fast to  get better facilities to women in the plantations who still need reforms in their work and living conditions, In the near future we will be able to grant them better living and working conditions as Sri Lankans.