Three-wheeler, Maruti offers fail to lure workers to Sri Lanka’s construction industry

ECONOMYNEXT – Offers of three-wheelers and Maruti cars for long service failed to draw workers to Sri Lanka’s construction industry, which is facing a severe shortfalls of tradesmen, but foreign labour is restricted, an industry official said.

"We have offered a free three-wheeler for workers who stay with us for five years. A Maruti car for staying for 10 years," Ranjith Gunatilleke, Managing Director of Sanken Construction, told a business forum in Colombo.

"They want to be state sector employees."

Gunatilleke said a letter was written to 225 elected representatives, inviting them to send workers, but there only 10 responses.

Gunatilleke said there were enough managerial and professional level staff, including architects and quantity surveyors, who were probably paid too low compared to their peers overseas.

A basic construction worker gets about Rs30,000-35,000 a month, which he thought was ‘reasonable’, he said.

"At one time, they went to Dubai, but now they just want a job in Sri Lanka," Gunatilleke said. "There is a lot of paid holidays and you are not separated."

Gunatilleke said, in theory, Board of Investment-approved projects could import labour, but they first had to prove that skills were not available.

Then when 100 workers were asked for, authorities eventually allowed 15 or 20, but by that time construction firms faced penalties for delays, he said.

However, Sri Lankans who went abroad worked very hard, even on their foreign projects, he said.





"When they come back, there is some problem here," he said to laughter.

Over the last few years, the 4.5 inch angle grinder has transformed the lives of Sri Lanka’s carpenters, wood finishers, metal workers, painters and tile layers, allowing them to leverage their labour multiple times and charge by the square foot, according to analysts familiar with the industry.

Although the angle grinder was invented in 1954 by a German firm, the availability of Chinese-made units below $30 (contributing to the much-maligned trade deficit) transformed the lives of skilled construction workers in Sri Lanka.

Many independent construction tradesmen now own their motorcycle with many moving onto three-wheelers, and some carpenters (powered by Chinese wood working machines, power drills, power saws, power planes) have also moved up to Maruti cars. (Colombo/Aug05/2016)

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