Advocating for workers on Sri Lanka's tea plantations

19 Aug 2009

South Central Sri Lanka is home to both the breathtakingly beautiful tea plantations that have made it famous and the impoverished plantation workers who work them. Originally Tamils from India who were brought over by the British to provide cheap labour on estates, the plantation community forms nearly five percent of the population in Sri Lanka today.

These plantation workers have faced social, economic and political isolation through the generations. While the Government finally provided them with full citizenship in the 1970s and began providing them with social welfare services, they remain poor and marginalized.

Many workers live with their entire family in small, one-room structures that lack running water and sanitation facilities. They often have little or no access to medical services and lack job security of any kind. With the plantation sector contributing to about five percent of the country’s GDP, improving the lot of plantation workers is beneficial not only to the people themselves, but to the economy as well.

In 2006, UNDP supported the Government in the formulation of a legislative action plan that focuses on a range of human development issues targeting the country’s most vulnerable, including those in the plantation estate sector. UNDP provided a team of consultants and training for the relevant government departments in order to actually implement the plan, which mandates improved infrastructure, health, education, housing, gender equality and human rights for these poorest.

Now that the action plan has been agreed upon, and the Government is ready to move ahead on it, UNDP is continuing in its advisory role in terms of figuring out how to translate the plan into a concrete road map for the years ahead. If Sri Lanka is weather the global economic recession while simultaneously achieving the Millennium Development Goals, stepping up human development for all of its citizens must remain a priority.