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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Only 7.7 pct of Sri Lanka’s working-age women in formal employment: IPS

ECONOMYNEXT – Only 7.7 percent of working-age women are engaged in formal employment with decent wages and decent working hours, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) said, noting that household and caregiving responsibilities and limited availability of jobs compound Sri Lanka’s low levels of female labour force participation.

“Decent work is multifaceted, incorporating productive work that delivers a fair income in conditions of freedom, equity, security, and human dignity (ILO, 1999). Due to the heavier household and caregiving responsibilities falling on women, they face challenges when participating in the labour force and securing decent work,” the IPS said in a statement on Monday November 06, authored by researchers Kimuthu Kiringoda and Himani Vithanage.

Noting that Sri Lanka’s labour market is characterised by several gender-specific challenges, IPS Director of Research Nisha Arunatilake was quoted as saying that employers consider women’s additional household and caregiving responsibilities when hiring workers, affecting the demand for female workers. Sri Lankan legislation also places higher costs on employers when hiring females, including maternity leave and added security expenses. Even when women are recruited, said Arunatilake, they face constraints and disadvantages in opportunities for promotions and career development owing to their household duties.

A separate survey by Sri Lanka’s Women and Media Collective found in July 2023 that 54.7 percent women respondents had said they could not get a job as there was no one to take care of their children, while another 11.9 percent had said there was no one to take care of their parents.

Notably, no man gave the two reasons for not being in paid work.


Sri Lanka women prevented from paid work by childcare, domestic work

According to the IPS, another main issue in Sri Lanka is the limited availability of decent jobs, especially outside the Western province.

As noted by Arunatilake, “about 30 percent of the jobs in these areas are in the agriculture sector,” which mostly comprises vulnerable jobs with low income. This, she said, combined with employers’ preference for recruiting males, further restricts women’s access to decent work opportunities.

A recent IPS study revealed that only 8 percent of Sri Lanka’s working-age population is engaged in formal employment with decent wages and decent working hours. For females, the percentage is 7.7 percent, lower than the male percentage of 8.3 percent.  The study also emphasised that access to decent work improves when women are English literate and have higher levels of education. Additionally, households with male members in formal work increase prospects for women to enter decent work. Unfortunately, the presence of school-going children decreases their chances of decent work, as women shoulder increased responsibility for their children’s education, the IPS said in its statement.

The IPS went on to say that outdated labour laws still retain provisions that are discriminatory to women. The lack of female representation in decision-making committees further compounds the challenges faced by women seeking decent work.

A conference organised by the IPS in collaboration with Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP) and Co-Impact, hosted the National Policy Conference on Women’s Access to Decent Work in Sri Lanka on October 31 saw policymakers and key stakeholders discuss means of improving women’s access to decent work, focusing on the importance of creating decent jobs for women and the role of childcare facilities in enhancing women’s access to decent work.

Executive Director at the Industrial Service Bureau Neelakanth Wanninayake was quoted as saying at the conference that a majority of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Sri Lanka struggle with issues like poor quality consciousness, low productivity, limited innovation, and diversification. Some of the major barriers to industrialisation, including policy issues, lack of access to finance and credit, inefficient infrastructure, lack of innovation and technology transfer, and poor entrepreneurial culture, need to be addressed to generate decent job opportunities in the country, she said.

Transforming precarious jobs to decent jobs in addition to the creation of decent jobs was discussed at the event, and, as access to decent work significantly differs at the regional level, implementing policies at the regional level was also stressed.

Gender segregation in the labour market in Sri Lanka is another persistent  issue, according to the IPS, with women often confined to certain types of professions, such as teaching and low-skilled service sector jobs. First Vice Chairperson of the Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce (WCIC) Gayani Herath de Alwissaid that, in the transport and logistics sector in Sri Lanka, female representation is only 3.4% compared to 96.6% of male representation. A significant factor contributing to this is the limited awareness of job prospects within specific industries that offer decent job opportunities, De Alwis said, noting the importance of raising awareness to attract women to decent jobs and ensuring their retainment in the workforce once entered.

Programme Manager, Gender and Economic Inclusion, International Finance Corporation Sri Lanka (IFC) Aarthy Arunasalam who also spoke at the event had highlighted the significance of having strong male advocates to promote women’s engagement in decent work, access to financial and non-financial services, and strengthening the linkages in the supply chain while integrating women into the entire value chain are some critical points highlighted.

General Manager, Women’s Empowerment, Advocacy and Code of Conduct at MAS Holdings Thanuja Jayawardene, meanwhile, highlighted challenges faced by the private sector in implementing childcare policies in the absence of a coherent national policy.

According to the statement, all panellists at the conference had agreed it is a societal responsibility to protect children and ensure their sound development in their early years. Jayawardene noted that two issues regarding creches at the workplace are the cost for the business and the different requirements of varied classes of employees. In the apparel sector, she said, the factory floor and office cadre have different requirements and shifts. It was, however, reiterated that the apparent sector was built on the backbone of women to whom extensive care and attention should be given, according to the IPS statement.

Parental responsibility and parental care was also discussed.

“All the experts agreed that child-rearing responsibility should shift from the mother to both parents, reaffirming the need for provisions for paternal leave. Taking steps to reduce crimes committed against children was also discussed by Project Manager of Women’s Centre Sri Lanka Gayani Gomes, citing examples from the free trade zones.

“Director (Planning and Information), Child Protection Authority, Shanika Malalgoda highlighted the National Guidelines for Day Care Centres in the discussion as a sound tool to maintain standards of care, along with the five-year action plan introduced by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Arguments were raised by the audience against the policy, stating that there are too many bodies involved, making the implementation complex. Malalgoda said they cannot avoid multi-sectoral engagement and are working with limited resources in the ministry,” the IPS said. (Colombo/Nov06/2023)

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Sri Lanka parliamentary committee says electricity tariffs should be reduced by 20 pct

ECONOMYNEXT — A parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Alleviating the Impact of the Economic Crisis has recommended to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) that electricity tariffs be reduced by at least 20 percent.

A statement from parliament said on Monday February 26 that, following an analytical review of the figures presented by the Electricity Board, Public Utilities Commission, etc. and taking into consideration all other factors affecting the price of electricity, including considering the opinion given by experts that the existing electricity price can be reduced by about 33%, price of electricity should be reduced by at least 20% in the year 2024 so that the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) will not suffer any loss.

PUCSL officials have informed the Committee that by the end of this month, they can submit the necessary recommendations to reduce the electricity bill, according to the statement.

The matter was taken up for discussion when the committee, chaired by MP Gamini Waleboda, met in the Parliament on February 22.

Officials from the Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Public Utilities Commission, Industry Development Board, Enterprise Development Authority, Department of Population and Statistics, Department of Inland Revenue and from government institutions including the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Industries Board and a group of industrialists had also been called for the meeting.

“The Committee gave several directives to the relevant institutions and officials to identify the micro, small and medium scale industries that are directly affected by the economic crisis and to activate the local economy and increase the foreign exchange earnings by reviving the industry sector.

“The Committee pointed out that due to the increase in electricity bills, the number of electricity connection cuts reported across the island has exceeded one million. It was also emphasised that in order to alleviate the pressure on the industry and the society, it should be arranged to provide electricity connections again by charging only 50 percent of the outstanding charges at the initial stage with the concessional basis of payment of outstanding electricity charges on installment basis,” the statement said.

The committee was also of the view to allow the customer to pay the connection fee in installments so as to avoid discouraging new entrepreneurs to start micro, small and financial industries due to high charges for getting fixed electricity connection and instructed to review the new connection fee and work to reduce it as much as possible.

The committee chair has instructed the PUCSL to conduct an audit on the electricity consumption in the public sector as an approach to ensure energy security.

“The Committee recommended to the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank to start a loan scheme at subsidised interest for the purchase of solar panel systems with a view to promoting solar energy as a source of energy supply to industries. The Ministry of Finance expressed its agreement to provide refinancing facilities subject to a maximum as per the proposal made by the Committee to implement a loan scheme targeting micro, small and medium scale industrialists under subsidized interest rates.

The committee has also recommended that raw materials that must be imported from abroad and impose tax concessions on such raw materials be identified to ensure the supply of raw materials required for the smooth running of micro, small and medium scale industries. Copper, lead, aluminum and other industrial scraps used as raw materials in various domestic industries currently being sold by the CEB to external buyers and other entities should also be issued to micro, small and medium scale industrialists recommended by the Ministry of Industry and the Industrial Development Board, the committee has recommended.

The definition used by the Department of Population and Statistics for micro, small and medium industries and the definition used by other institutions such as the Industrial Development Board and the Central Bank for those industries are different from each other, which is an obstacle in making policy decisions, the committee had noted, directing the Department of Population and Statistics to support to the policymakers by releasing statistical data based on a common definition.

“The committee also recommended that the Credit Information Bureau should take prompt action to remove their credit information from the blacklists so as to facilitate access to credit facilities for micro, small and medium scale industries facing financial crisis to activate their balance sheets and to review all existing laws and procedures for registration of micro, small and medium scale industries as well as to obtain licenses and introduce a simple system.

“The committee informed all the parties to establish a steering Committee headed by the Ministry of Industry to implement the recommendations given by the Committee and to report its progress within a week,” the statement said. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Sri Lanka sets up fund to help children of Gaza

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is mandated to provide education, health, relief and social services, and emergency assistance to refugees. (Pic courtesy UNWRA)

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers have approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to set up a fund to help children caught in the war in Gaza, a statement said.

The government will contribute a million US dollars and use funds allocated by state agencies for Ifthar celebrations.

Public contributions are also called.

The Presidential Secretariat is requesting public donations citizens for the “Children of Gaza Fund” to be contributed to account number 7040016 at Bank of Ceylon (7010), Taprobane Branch (747) by 11th April.

Deposit receipts should to be forwarded to 0779730396 via WhatsApp. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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Top US official calls for inclusive reforms, deeper defence ties with Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — United States Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard Verma in discussions with Sri Lanka officials had called for inclusive reforms and stronger human rights and also discussed deeper defence and maritime cooperation.

The United States remains committed to the economic growth and prosperity of Sri Lanka, statement from the US Embassy in Colombo quoted the official as telling government, civil society and economic leaders during his February 23-24 visit to Sri Lanka.

“Verma met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry to discuss progress on Sri Lanka’s IMF program, including inclusive economic and governance reforms aimed at keeping Sri Lanka on the path to sustainable economic growth.  Deputy Secretary Verma stressed the vital need to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. They also explored opportunities to deepen defence and maritime cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka, including strengthening the Sri Lanka Navy’s capabilities to safeguard national security and promote a more stable Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.

 On February 23, aboard the SLNS Vijayabahu, one of three former U.S. Coast Guard cutters transferred by the United States to Sri Lanka, Deputy Secretary Verma said: “I am pleased to announce that the Department of State has notified Congress of our intent to transfer a fourth medium endurance cutter to Sri Lanka.  The Department obligated $9 million in Foreign Military Financing to support this effort.  We look forward to offering the cutter, pending the completion of Congress’ notification period.  If completed, this transfer would further strengthen defense cooperation between the United States and Sri Lanka.  The ship would increase Sri Lanka’s ability to patrol its Exclusive Economic Zone, monitor its search and rescue area, and provide additional security for ships from all nations that transit the busy sea lanes of the Indian Ocean.” 

 Participating in the announcement at Colombo Port were Sri Lanka State Minister of Defense Premitha Bandara Tennakoon, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera, and U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung, who remarked, according to the statement: “The United States has previously transferred three cutters to the Sri Lankan Navy, which deploys these ships for maritime operations and law enforcement missions, countering human trafficking and drug trafficking, while supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts. The eventual transfer of a fourth vessel would be just one more point in a long history of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United States in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” 

Verma also visited the site of the West Container Terminal (WCT), a deepwater shipping container terminal in the Port of Colombo. The WCT, currently being constructed by Colombo West International Terminal (CWIT) Private Limited with 553 million US dollars in financing from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, will provide critical infrastructure for the South Asian region, the embassy said.

“Operating near capacity since 2021, the Port of Colombo’s new addition will be the port’s deepest terminal and aims to boost Colombo’s shipping capacity, expanding its role as a premiere logistics hub connecting major routes and markets, boosting prosperity for Sri Lanka without adding to its sovereign debt,” it said. (Colombo/Feb27/2024)

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