The Strength of Tea in Sri Lanka
The tea industry in Sri Lanka has been in place since 1867 and represents 2% of the GDP. It is the main source of foreign exchange for the country. The business has been managed (ruled) under the age old feudal work structure that has been in place since the inception of the industry. Turmoil has shaken the industry in the past few years with protracted labor disputes and significantly reduced productivity. These factors has shaken the financial stability of the government, and change has been called for.
Problems Are Brewing
Some of the issues facing the industry are disturbing. When you measure productivity in the industry, plantation workers are plucking an average of 18kgs a day. Their counterparts on plantations in India pluck an average of 27 kgs per day. A prolonged labor dispute has been raging since early 2015 over wages. Both sides have been hopelessly deadlocked. In previous wage agreements, pluckers have been given wage increases, which improved their personal standard of living. However, much to the dismay of management, pluckers continued to be frustrated in their work, and absenteeism and attendance continued to decline. These issues are just a glimpse at the problems that are strangling the livelihood of the industry.
Lean Management Offers a Perfect Cup
Experts have studied the issue and have proposed the adoption of lean management on plantations across the tea industry. These studies have clearly shown that a Lean approach to the industry will bring resolution to the endless labor disputes, reduce the lack of productivity, and boost quality across the board. Because of the financial distress to the plantations and the government, all parties seem to be open to implementation of a lean management system. The problems of the industry clearly can be addressed and resolved through the use of lean management. When the plantation managers have a clear understanding of the challenges truly faced by the workers, and the workers clearly understand the need of the plantation managers, life could be revived in the industry. Will implementation of lean management be the magical fix some may envision? No, by no means will it be a “fix all.” However, we do understand that a solid practice of lean management in the industry will go a long way in stabilizing the decline, then turning this proud industry back onto a trajectory of success.