PA demands immediate action against Minister Thondaman’s Violent Actions at Pedro Estate
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PA demands immediate action against Minister Thondaman’s Violent Actions at Pedro Estate

The Planters’ Association of Ceylon (PA) issued a statement strongly condemning the recent illegal and unacceptable behavior exhibited by Minister Jeevan Thondaman at Pedro Estate, Nuwara Eliya. His blatant and reckless disregard for the law, along with the use of intimidation tactics, has caused widespread concern and alarm within the plantation community. Such actions not only undermine the principles of justice and rule of law but also pose a serious threat to the safety and security of all industry stakeholders.

On 30th May 2024, Minister Thondaman and his associates committed a series of unlawful actions aimed at forcing reinstatement of 3 KVPL workers who had been suspended upon complaints that they had illegally assaulted a fellow employee and threatened arson against company equipment, unless work was halted on ground preparation for planting of coffee to replace unproductive tea.

The workers were subsequently suspended pending a disciplinary inquiry and a police complaint was lodged given the serious and criminal nature of the acts in question. This resulted in strike action being called by the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC), however the company’s management insisted on protocol being followed, once a disciplinary inquiry was concluded.

Efforts to resolve the matter through a meeting called by the Assistant Commissioner of Labour proved futile, with the unions refusing to await a decision post domestic inquiry. In order to coerce the CEO of that company to reinstate these three employees, Minister Thondaman has incited multiple illegal actions, including attempting to use a large, intoxicated and unruly gang to intimidate and assault KVPL management following a meeting with the Nuwara Eliya Assistant Commissioner of Labour, and obstruct them from leaving the area until the police intervened and provided them with an escort for their safety.

Subsequently, the Minister and his associates who had learned that the CEO and his team were stopping by Pedro Estate, forcibly trespassed into the estate, blockaded it, and illegally detained them against their will for a harrowing 4 hours within the factory premises. Surrounded by a drunk and unruly mob, they were subject to prolonged threats of bodily harm and arson if they did not accept the Minister’s demands to immediately reinstate the 3 workers in question, and offer them work the very next day.

During this time, Minister Thondaman – who behaving in a manner which falls extremely short of the conduct expected of a Cabinet Minister – and his associates has been caught on video illegally trespassing on KVPL property, disrupting work, screaming and verbally assaulting KVPL workers to drive them out of their workplaces, and demanding impunity for his actions, screaming threats that: “estates will burn” if any legal action was taken against him by police who were present and helpless to intervene.

The PA takes the opportunity to commend KVPL CEO, Anura Weerakoon for maintaining calm and composure throughout this prolonged ordeal despite extreme and continuous attempts from the Minister to provoke a reaction.

In the face of imminent danger and the arrival of a team from the Police Special Task Force (STF), KVPL management reluctantly agreed to Minister Thondaman’s demands to reinstate suspended workers to avoid potential violence, loss of life and irreparable damage to property. Such actions, taken under duress, underscore the severe challenges faced by the plantation sector and urge decisive action to uphold the rule of law.

A senior management representative of KVPL who went through this ordeal had to be hospitalized as a result of the extreme stress that he had been placed under due to the threats and intimidation tactics which he experienced. The PA notes the Minister has since been hard at work attempting to mislead the public by falsely claiming that he intervened over a matter related to wages and complaints from female factory workers who he claimed were asked to wipe out their red pottu by the estate management.

The PA highlights the Minister’s claims to showcase their absurdity, as he attempts to retrofit claims that the dispute over the illegal conduct of three workers into being a dispute over wages.

PA reiterates that there has been no illegal force applied to workers, outside of the conduct of Minister Thondaman himself. The directions to remove such items are necessary to ensure compliance with ISO regulations regarding foreign matter contamination. Compliance is not optional, as it is a requirements of international buyers. This is a matter beyond the control of RPCs.

This incident underscores the paramount importance of upholding law and order within the plantation industry. The PA firmly condemns any actions that undermine the rule of law or jeopardize the safety of individuals.

The PA urges the Sri Lankan Government and the Sri Lankan Police to conduct a comprehensive investigation into this incident. It is imperative that those responsible for such flagrant breaches of law and order are brought to justice swiftly and decisively. Additionally, immediate measures must be implemented to ensure the safety and security of all industry stakeholders. Confidence in the plantation sector cannot be restored without demonstrable actions to safeguard the well-being of workers, management, and all associated personnel.

The PA will continue to advocate for accountability until those responsible are held to account for their actions.

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