Sri Lanka should have less state intervention in job market: union boss

ECONOMYNEXT – The government should not interfere in employment and allow market forces to prevail, an official of a trade union which until recently was affiliated with the traditionally state-expansionist Sri Lanka Freedom Party, said.

Leslie Devendra, General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya (SLNSS), said most people in Sri Lanka seek a government job, as they get a good salary, get paid even without working and are able to get a transfer to an office near their home.

"Those are the three things which attract people, and that must change," he said at the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo, at the launch of a report by the World Bank and the International Labour Organization.

SLNSS members are mostly from the state sector and state-owned enterprises.

"The government must stop interfering with these things so that market forces can make their own rules," Devendra said.

He said the market may face a shock when the changes first happen, but then it will adapt.

"It will settle down and good people will find that there are avenues to go up and show their potential and the people who don’t get into that system will be failures in life."

Out of the country’s eight million labour pool, 1.5 million are in the state sector.

SLNSS broke away from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in 2018 after 60 years of affiliation, and Devendra resigned his position as the Presidential Director General for Trade Union Activities over political disagreements.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party has traditionally been in favour of state-led development, by regularly nationalising private enterprises and expanding the public sector.





In recent years, it has given tens of thousands of jobs to graduates educated at peoples’ expense, who are demanding lifetime incomes and pensions in the state as a Samurai-style entitlement from the rest of society.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from the United National Party, generally viewed as pro-market, and who had spoken of reducing the large government, is now promising more Samurai-style jobs in an already bloated state service.

It is common for unemployed university graduates to protest on the streets in Colombo demanding state jobs, after being educated on taxpayer money.

The government’s moves to increase public sector salaries for political ends is also making the country less productive, Devendra said.

"In the public sector, the government periodically increases salary, for political reasons, mostly," he said.

"When it’s time for elections, they make huge increases and we see a big difference between the starting salaries of the public sector and the private sector."

"Public sector salary increases are not followed by productivity increases."

"They have nothing to do with productivity."

He said therefore, the society has got used to a situation where not working is considered good.

"You should be engaged, because that is what life is all about."

"Not just sleeping or gossiping with somebody, but that kind of attitude has crept into our society," he said.

He said the situation may now be improving.

"In the private sector, if you don’t perform, then you go out, but in the public sector, whether you work or not, you get your annual increments, and promotions based totally on seniority and nothing else," he said.

Meanwhile, Employers’ Federation of Ceylon Director General/Chief Executive Kanishka Weerasinghe said youth are looking for government jobs as they are not aware of the benefits in the private sector.

"There’s a lack of understanding among the youth on what the private sector has to offer," he said.

He said he is able to provide 5,000 internships for disadvantaged students, but was only able to fill 500 posts. (Colombo/Feb28/2019-SB)

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