Sri Lanka state enterprise workers should get bonuses to stop sabotage: legislator

ECONOMYNEXT – Workers in loss-making Sri Lanka state enterprises should be given bonuses to stop them from being discouraged and engaging in sabotage of public property, a senior legislator said.

"It is good that bonuses were given to employees of the Sri Lanka Transport Board," Mahinda Amaraweera, a legislator from the United Peoples Freedom Alliance of President Maithripala Sirisena told parliament.

"If not, they will be sad when other workers get bonuses and will be discouraged. Some may also damage buses, engaging in sabotage. They may also strike."

He was speaking at a debate on Sri Lanka’s transport and civil aviation ministry in parliament.

State minister for transport Ashok Abeysinghe said workers at the Sri Lanka Transport Board has been given a 13,000 rupee bonus though a Treasury circular had limited bonus to only 1,000 rupees if the SOE made a loss.

He said the SLTB was making operational profits, helped by subsidies given from people’s tax money by the Treasury to run ‘uneconomical routes’ and subsidised travel for armed forces and school children.

Unpaid pension benefits were also settled in recent years with people’s tax money.

A voluntary retirement scheme was also offered with people’s tax money to get rid of 8,000 excess workers, but around 3,000-odd had taken up the offer, Abeysinghe said.

Sri Lanka’s state bus companies are heavily unionized and reforms are difficult. Sri Lanka’s Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Sri Lanka Freedom Party have opposed reforms in the past.

Expropriation

Buses were one of the first privately owned businesses founded by locals to be expropriated in Sri Lanka after gaining self-determination from the British, as part of a wave of nationalisation that killed  private enterprise that emerged during the late colonial period and after.

Sri Lanka also expropriated banks, insurance companies, and land owned by citizens, as well as commercial tea, rubber, and coconut farms owned by both citizens and foreigners after gaining self-determination from the British.

In the liberalisation period after 1977, competition was brought to public transport with privately owned buses.

But a rigid regulation involving route individual route licenses, which are not transferable as well as price controls have prevented consolidation and innovation.

Megapolis Minister Champika Ranawaka said public buses in Sri Lanka were built on truck chasis and suspension was for carrying goods and not passengers. The government was planning to regulate the import of buses.

Community Solution

Instead the community (markets) have developed alternative means of transport such as three wheeler taxis and privately owned motor cycles and cars.

Without regulations to hamper innovation, the three wheeler sector has first developed call centres and there are now several Uber-style taxi apps, which has improved productivity of capital and reduced costs.

Public buses on the other hand are idle on the road side without off-peak pricing freedoms to boost utilisation reducing capital output, analysts have said. (Tuk-tuk, school van regulation in Sri Lanka can create a bus-style fiasco – Bellwether)

The state has raised taxes to make it more difficult to get cars, motor cycles, and three wheelers for the people.

The Central Bank has also placed credit restriction on three wheeler finance and cars after printing money to de-stabilise a pegged exchange rate regime.

Former Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva also tried to stop people from below 35 years of age from driving three wheelers in a bid to restrict the growth of the sector, but it was opposed by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera (Mangala against move to recreate serfdom in Sri Lanka with tuk-tuk driver ban).

Samaraweera said nobody had a right to restrict what people did for a job, and the feudal era where an elite could dictate how ordinary people expended their labours had already passed.

During British rule, both serfdom and slavery was abolished in Sri Lanka and the caste system is gradually breaking down under pressure from a more market-based society. (Colombo/Mar26/2019-SB)