Poonagala is an Estate in haldummulla divisional secretariat of Badulla district. Despite the blinding sceneries in the area, people living in Poonagala are also experiencing the same fate as the other plantation worker communities in the up country, revealing the harsh nature of the life they leading beneath the veil of scenic beauty.
Exploitation of plantation workers has been consistent throughout the years and they have been struggling for their rights since a long time. With their rights denied, the plantation workers have been in a constant wrestle with the authorities for years to overcome the distress they have been facing.
Living under the shadow of estate companies, lives being manipulated by the employers and shedding their best years working in the Estate fields, the only flame of hope they have towards the end of their careers is the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).
These Estate Employers have no urge to pay the innocent people pouring sweat in the estates, what they deserve by the right.
Plantation workers in Poonagala are struggling to keep their lives moving forward with a countless number of hardships. They have been mistreated by the authorities for years, leaving them forsaken as many of the rights they are entitled to such as infrastructure, education, healthcare etc. have been neglected.
Many elderly retired plantation workers in the Poonagala Estate have had to face many difficulties when securing their EPF.
The EPF ; Workers’ compensation upon retirement and the Legal Background.
According to the EPF Act, a minimum of 8% is deducted from the basic salary of an employee and the employer pays 3% on behalf of the employee for the Employees’ Trust Fund. Employee’s EPF balance keeps growing as employee mature at their working environment as the cumulative balance in their EPF account, which is maintained by the Central Bank, and is invested in Treasury Bills, Treasury Bonds, Equity and Corporate Debentures etc. Depending on the rate of return, an annual interest rate is declared and credited to employee’s account. The Employee’s investment can be retrieved with the interest over time upon their retirement, thus ensuring a huge sum for a peaceful retirement for the employees.
Most of the plantation workers in Poonagala Division 1 are Tamils, thus Tamil has ended up being their main tongue. Only a very few people here are familiar with Sinhala, which is the most commonly used language used for documentations in this matter.
Having little knowledge in Sinhala, many details in these documentation processes are done with minor errors due to the complications in the language, which have proven to be fatal years later when trying to retrieve their ETF.
Explaining the hardships the plantation workers experience due to this complexities in the language, Viswanadan (45) said that only a few people in Poonagala Division 1 are familiar with Sinhala and most of them too cannot read or write Sinhala.
“These people are not familiar with Sinhala language. Only a few are used to it and they too cannot read or write Sinhala properly. So they have to seek the aid of someone else all the time, whenever they need to fill any document in Sinhala. Most of the documents needed to get this EPF are in Sinhala. Since they are filled by someone else, confusions have had happened and because of that, there are many people who are yet to get their EPF, even after years since their retirement. Many have passed away also even without retrieving their EPF.”