It is a cruel irony when the tea plantation workers have had a cup of milk tea as a luxury item. But with its economy in complete meltdown, many of the estate workers of the Argyle estate in Hatton have had to ration even their daily cups of tea.
“Milk tea is a luxury for us,” one of them told Roar reporters. “Once in a while, we will get some milk from the nearby dairy farms but that’s also very little.”
Yet this deprivation is not new to the estate working communities. Disadvantaged for generations, the estate communities in the Central Province of the country have been disenfranchised until the beginning of the century, suffered from deplorable living conditions and have been generally ignored by consecutive governments.
“We’ve been plucking tea leaves in this estate for a very long time,” one such worker said. “We cook our food using wooden stoves. With our daily wage, we could never afford gas cylinders or kerosene oil cookers.”
Tea plantation workers are paid LKR 1000 per day, paid when 22 days of work have been completed. “If we work less than that, we would only get LKR 900. How are we to buy a gas cylinder with that?”
The workers claimed that they used to receive several essential items such as flour and rice through a welfare programme of the estate, which was helpful during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020. But now, all those programmes have come to a standstill.
“There is no transport service from our homes to the estate. If there’s an emergency, there are no ambulances we could call to our homes. We have to get a vehicle at our own expense. There is no resident doctor in the area. That means we have to spend a lot to go to the hospital,” they said.