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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Women in Night and Shift Work in Sri Lanka: Policies to Facilitate More Participation

This blog is based on a forthcoming report on ‘Women, work and night shifts in nursing homes and supermarkets’ by Nisha Arunatilake, Ashani Abayasekara, Chathurga Karunanayake, and Dulini Fernando ahead of Women’s Day on March 08.

Nisha Arunatilake is the Director of Research, Ashani Abayasekara is a Research Economist, and Chathurga Karunanayake is a Research Assistant at a think tank, the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka

Labour markets are undergoing rapid changes, while technological advances, income growth, and urbanisation are transforming lifestyles.

Traditionally, most employees worked regular work hours, from morning to evening, and went home to be with their families. But, with lifestyle changes, people do not spend as much time at home.

Such behaviour is making inroads into labour markets, as businesses stay open late to provide services. Sri Lanka is no exception; the 2018 Labour Force Survey confirms that the share of service sector jobs in the economy has increased from 42.9% in 2012 to 46.6% in 2018.

Along with the increased demand for service sector jobs, the demand for non-standard jobs, shift work, and night work outside the traditional day-time jobs, are on the rise.

With the labour force participation rates for males already fairly high, businesses are increasingly looking to women to fill labour shortages in the country. However, this has not been easy.

Despite different initiatives, female labour force participation has remained stubbornly unchanged and below 40% over the past several decades.

On the supply side, challenges faced by women in the labour market include skills gaps, safety and security concerns at work and on the way to the workplace, issues with transport, maintaining work-life balance, and social-cultural norms that discourage women from employment.

These challenges are reinforced by gender wage gaps, voluntary or involuntary discrimination in the workplace, archaic legislation that makes hiring women more expensive, and work environments that are unfriendly towards females.

That said, the types of challenges faced by those engaging in night and shift work can be very different from the challenges faced by those doing regular jobs.

Many of the studies that look at increasing the labour force participation of females do not take into account the nature of available jobs and the specific challenges faced by women doing different types of jobs.

Based on a sample of 30 associate professional and semi-skilled women pursuing jobs as nursing home workers, care workers, pharmacists, customer service assistants, cashiers, sales assistants, and supervisors, a recent IPS study examined work satisfaction and career objectives of women as well as the challenges faced by them.

These challenges were examined under three different dimensions: a) at home and on the way to work; b) at the workplace; and, c) due to societal attitudes.

How Women View Night and Shift Work

The study found that, despite facing barriers, a majority of the women valued the opportunity to be employed in the supermarket and nursing home industries. Some regarded work in these two industries as more ‘respectable’ compared to alternate jobs.

Those employed in the supermarket industry hoped to climb up the career ladder, and those engaged in the nursing home industry were happy to be doing a highly respected job.

As one nurse said, “I like treating patients and seeing them getting better. I am admired by others for my kind deeds. Even our religion appreciates this job. These things help me keep going.”

According to the findings, the challenges faced by women in these two industries were not necessarily due to inconvenient and/or long work hours.

More pressing were safety and security concerns, work stress, and issues with traveling in the night, which are exemplified by one respondent’s statement below:

“Even though I look forward to heading back home after work, I have to wait for more than one hour to get a bus. Sometimes, I decide to take two buses so that I can get home early. But most of the time, I am wasting the time I could have been with my kids and family.”

Women in both industries felt that they had to incur additional costs due to their non-standard work hours, such as the need for special child care arrangements and hiring three wheelers due to the lack of public transport in the night and the safety concerns of travelling by buses in the night.

Some of the challenges women faced were due to poor management practices, which required them to work long shifts and unexpected hours due to staff shortages and absenteeism.

Although existing legislation provides safeguards against excessive work shifts and inadequate resting periods, these were not always followed when there were human resource issues.

Although workers in both industries reported harassment at the workplace, such aggressors were typically disgruntled customers rather than colleagues. For the most part, workers were happy with the way the companies dealt with harassment incidents.

Marriage and problems with work-life balance were challenges for career progression. Many unmarried, young workers in the supermarket industry were planning to leave work once married.

Sometimes, this is due to pressure from their partners or in-laws-to-be, but some women themselves also want to leave work and concentrate on their married lives.

The negative perceptions of society regarding women engaged in night work was also a concern for some workers.

One supermarket employee noted,
“My parents are okay for now, but their views will change after I get married and have a husband and family. I do not think even my husband’s family will like it […] night work is not good, especially after marriage as it can lead to family problems, caused both by family duties getting neglected as well as unwanted suspicion of being away at night.”

Facilitating Female Participation in Non-standard Work

The present legislation that governs the employment conditions of nursing home and supermarket workers does not take into account the special circumstances of women working in these industries.

For example, most supermarket workers are internal migrants. As such, rather than regular weekly holidays, they value longer holidays a couple of times a month, which would allow them time to visit their families over a longer period.

Further, the current legislation is mainly concerned about the working conditions and facilities at the workplace. However, legislation should look into providing other types of support to facilitate greater participation of women in non-regular work.

These include addressing the risks of travelling in the night, monitoring workplaces to ensure that work arrangements do not violate working times stipulated by law, empowering workers by educating them about their rights in the workplace, ensuring that minimum wage legislation looks into work-related additional expenses incurred by women in non-regular work, and changing gender ideologies that hinder women’s participation in non-regular work environments. (Colombo/Mar05/2020)

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.


“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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