Revenue-sharing scheme on RPC managed estates | Sunday Observer

Revenue-sharing scheme on RPC managed estates

Weighing the plucked tea leaves
Weighing the plucked tea leaves

Estate workers in Regional Plantation Companies (RPC) managed estates have earned as much as Rs. 89,000 in the past month by working on tea fields that have been allocated to them on a revenue-share scheme. The top 20 pluckers from a hill country estate had earned on average Rs. 65,000 to 80,000 in October a Planters Association spokesman said.

RPC’s have sought the services of retired employees in the recent past, due to a shortage of workers, and allocated blocks of tea fields for tending and plucking. This has seen a surge in livelihood generation where the pluckers, not bound by norms and pay-roll obligation, have earned two to three times their daily wage.

RPC’s have been advocating the same model for estate workers as the most plausible solution to the worker and the RPC – a model whereby the worker gets to manage and take charge of an area allocated to them.

The scheme allows a worker to pluck as much as she or he can with no limits or norms for daily plucking, resulting in pluckers brining in 40–50 kgs per day and collectively as a family have accounted for over 150 kgs per day.

The revenue-share model in addition to the daily wages system is a progressive step and one that will benefit the worker and the grower.

Deliberated for some time and included in the 2016 Collective Agreement, signed by Trade Union leaders and the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC), the applicable clause states, “The Unions undertake to support the improvement of productivity of the industry, and at estate level by moving to productivity-linked based wage regime based on revenue share and out-grower models through the next agreement. Parties agree to meet and discuss the modalities of implementing the models during the course of the agreement.” RPC’s reiterate that the old archaic wage model must be replaced by the more progressive revenue-share one that allows a worker unlimited potential to earn.

RPCs have put forward their recommendation of paying Rs. 46 for every kilogram of tea plucked, which will warrant a daily wage of at least Rs. 1,012 for 22 kgs of tea leaves.

“We hope leaders of the trade unions will appreciate this step in elevating the livelihood of workers from daily paid to being in charge of how much they earn at their pace,” he said.

Tracing the rationale behind the revenue-share model the spokesman said that currently estates operate on a 50% depleted workforce. In 1992 there were 327,000 workers which have now dwindled to 160,000. “Only 16% of all residents on estates are workers. The rest are dependents” he said.

Inadequacy of labour and the work ethic centred towards achieving the norm and no more, meant that harvesting was delayed.

“It was these extended fields that were resuscitated and given to workers on the premise that they tend and nurture the fields and the crop yield is theirs to sell back to the company. This arrangement has been on-going and one that has benefitted both the harvester and RPC although not termed before as ‘revenue-share’. “On this plan, a worker is offered 25 full working days plus the opportunity of working on the revenue sharing land which they do eagerly as if it were their own.

“Under their management the fields have flourished with RPC’s paying an enhanced rate for the crop harvested by them from these areas. “No worker can be forced to be a part of the revenue-share model, but we find enthusiasm with pensioners also plucking and tending these lands” said the spokesman.

“The Rs 80,000 earned is incremental earnings and not through the daily wages system,” he said.

The revenue-share scheme is being pilot tested across several estates and workers themselves maintain that the model helps overcome inordinate shortage of labour while enabling them unlimited enhancement of income and livelihood. The new proposal enables high labour costs to be mitigated by improving worker productivity through performance-related pay – similar to the smallholder model – while enabling workers also to earn well beyond their present income.

“In the new model, remuneration depends on the worker’s output as opposed to the archaic attendance-based wage used at present, which provides little incentive to increase productivity and the new model thus also gives workers greater control over their earnings.”

Sri Lanka’s 400,000 tea smallholders, who produce nearly 75% of the nation’s total amount of green leaf function on a similar basis and have more than doubled the extent of their cultivations between 1992 and 2017, reflecting the viability, the success and attractiveness of this model for all the parties involved and in the process have bettered their quality of life as well.

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