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EFC spurs a dialogue on IT-integrated remote work culture

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The first edition of the HR/IR Forum for 2021 of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) was held recently on the theme of ‘IT-integrated remote work culture: Pandemic and Beyond’.

The webinar-forum which brought together experts in HR/IR, Industrial and Labour Law and disability sector from the EFC and its member-companies, deliberated on opportunities and challenges a remote work culture driven by IT entails in the pandemic-clouded environment. It also brought to the table the shifts to be forged in an IT-driven work culture beyond the pandemic, an EFC news release said.

Opening the forum, Kelum Herat-Gunaratne, Head of Business Transformation, Hirdaramani Group, provided a snapshot of the labor-intensive, diversified conglomerate’s key areas of business impact due to the pandemic which included both primary and supporting activities.

With an unprecedented toll on sales due to market and operation closure, non-supply of raw materials etc. all of which had a ‘domino effect on operations’ as Herat-Gunaratne explained, the company was driven to adapt mitigation strategies which were largely IT-fuelled, the release said.

“All were counting on technology as the answer. Infrastructure and finance too had a huge role to play and we strategized collectively to see how we could adapt to this new environment,” noted Herat-Gunaratne who went on to emphasize that the IT-HR fusion gave new interventions a further thrust.

Resources for remote work, adapting a change in the work culture, and health & safety of the employees were among the core strategies adopted, said the senior professional who went on to remark that the flip-side of the pandemic was that it ‘fast-tracked the implementation of Hirdaramani’s digital transformation strategy’.

Amplifying the existing processes and leveraging the right technology, pushed WSO2 to brave COVID-induced business challenges, remarked Udeshika Ratnavira, Vice President, Human Resources and Administration at WSO2.

Citing monthly town halls, buddy chats, employee surveys, interactive on-boarding sessions, support to set up home offices and creating awareness on coping with crisis as chief strategies embraced by her company, Ratnavira also alluded to the challenges which had to be braved.

“Employees were missing out social experience, their mental health was affected, brainstorming sessions were difficult on the phone and there were domestic interventions impacting work which we had to take stock of.”

With the challenges, learnings were also many said the HR professional who cited prioritizing costs and essentials, investing in technology, fostering a larger and a deeper pool of talent, connectedness, communication, agility, thinking global and wellness among them.

“During a lockdown people with disabilities are placed in a double-lock down,” remarked Manique Gunaratne, Manager, Specialised Training and Disability Resource Centre of the EFC. “Work-from-home policies must ensure that employees with disabilities have appropriate adjustments at home, similar to what they have in their regular workplace,”

Gunaratne urged employers to champion accessibility and disability-inclusion. It is imperative for the employer to understand what format best suits each employee she said emphasizing the importance of enabling telework arrangements, work-related communication and websites on accessible formats.

Support to purchase assistive devices for remote work, promotion of skills of people with disabilities in assistive technologies and online tools are also urgent in moving forward, she added.

Throwing light on IT-integrated remote work and Sri Lankan Labour Law, Sewwandi Jayatunga Wijesekera Head of Solutions (Legal & HR) and Assistant Director General of the EFC, shared some of the common legal concerns raised by the EFC members in navigating through the new business fabric brought about by the pandemic.

Deviations from the terms in the contract of employment, new work arrangements, leave and holidays, remuneration and benefits, monitoring the performance of probationers and poor performers and managing discipline were among these.

“None of the labour laws of Sri Lanka have specific provisions pertaining to new ways of work such as remote work, compelling employers to manage within the existing legal framework,” she observed.

Noting that moving forward, all work agreements should incorporate provisions related to remote work in case of such necessity, she said. All remote work policies should be “employee-friendly, feasible and practical without compromising on the safety of sensitive internal data and information.”

She added that in formulating such policies, work-life balance, occupational safety and health and communication related challenges should be taken into account.

The forum was followed by a panel discussion which gave the participants at the webinar an opportunity to share their thoughts and elicit responses from the experts.



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Lanka inflation hit 70.2% in August

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Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the crisis-hit island nation.

(Al Jazeera) Consumer inflation in Sri Lanka accelerated to 70.2 percent in August, the statistics department has said, as the island nation reels under its worst economic crisis in decades.The National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) rose 70.2 percent last month from a year earlier, after a 66.7 percent increase in July, the Department of Census and Statistics said in a statement on Wednesday.

Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the tourism-dependent South Asian country of 22 million people.The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in August said the inflation rate would moderate after peaking at about 70 percent as the country’s economy slowed.

The NCPI captures broader retail price inflation and is released with a lag of 21 days every month.The more closely monitored Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI), released at the end of each month, rose 64.3 percent in August. It acts as a leading indicator for national prices and shows how inflation is evolving in Sri Lanka’s biggest city.

Sri Lanka’s economy shrank 8.4 percent in the quarter through June from a year ago in one of the steepest declines seen in a three-month period, amid fertiliser and fuel shortages.

“Inflation is expected to taper from September,” said Dimantha Mathew, head of research for Colombo-based investment firm First Capital. “However, inflation is only likely to moderate and reach single digits in the second half of 2023.”

An acute dollar shortage, caused by economic mismanagement and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for essential imports including food, fuel, fertiliser and medicine.

The country earlier this month reached a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of about $2.9bn, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.

India on Tuesday said it had begun talks with Sri Lanka on restructuring its debt and promised to support the crisis-hit neighbour mainly through long-term investments after providing nearly $4bn of financial aid.

The High Commission of India in Colombo said it held the first round of debt talks with Sri Lankan officials on September 16.

“The discussions held in a cordial atmosphere symbolise India’s support to early conclusion and approval of a suitable IMF programme for Sri Lanka,” the High Commission said.

Sri Lanka will make a presentation to its international creditors on Friday, laying out the full extent of its economic troubles and plans for a debt restructuring.

The Indian High Commission also said New Delhi would continue to support Colombo “in all possible ways, in particular by promoting long-term investments from India in key economic sectors”.

India’s support to Sri Lanka this year has included a $400m currency swap, a $1bn credit line for essential goods and a $500m line for fuel. In addition, India has also deferred payment on Sri Lankan imports of about $1.2bn and given a credit line of $55m for fertiliser imports.

The High Commission said India had continuing development projects worth about $3.5bn in Sri Lanka, whose president earlier this month asked his officials to resolve obstacles to projects backed by India. He did not specify the obstacles or the projects.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka will turn a free trade agreement with India into a comprehensive economic and technological partnership.

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group turnover tops 1 bn

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC saw its group turnover increase from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% year on year.Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Wayamba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022,” said Chairman, Raigam Group, Dr. Ravi Liyanage.

Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC, which was listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2010 is the front line player in the value added salt market in Sri Lanka and it supplies a range of consumer salt products under the popular brands “Isi”, “Ruchi”, “Welcome” and “Triple Washed” as well as various salt products used as an input for different industries in bulk form.All the consumer products of Raigam Wayamba Salters are SLS certified for its quality and consistency and the processes are ISO certified.’8

The Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group is equipped with salterns, salt refineries and processing plants located in Puttalam and Hambantota districts. In addition to that the raw material supply for these operations has been ensured by the 1,800 Acre saltern established in Kuchchaweli in Trincomalee District by the parent company of the Raigam Group. Further the Puttalam Salt Limited (one of the successor to the National Salt Corporation) is also an associate company of the Raigam Group.

The well-known Raigam brand and state of the art island wide distribution network are distinct strengths of the Raigam Group. The Raigam distribution network operates on a latest IT platform and also includes distribution channels for modern trade, industry and bakery sectors.

Sri Lanka’s economy which was under-performed for two years due to COVID pandemic situation was experiencing the impacts of the foreign exchange crisis in the latter part of the financial year 2021/2022. Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Waymba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022.

The group turnover increased from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% Y to Y. At the same time the Profit after Tax grew from Rs. 149.7 million to Rs. 215.6 million at an annual growth rate of 44%. As a result of these successful financial performances the Earning Per share for the year stood at Rs. 0.76 compared to Rs. 0.53 in the corresponding year. This has made a significant impact on the value of the shareholders’ investment increasing the Net Asset Value Per Share form Rs. 5.06 to Rs. 5.74.

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Singer’s legendry sewing industry and Academies developing skills and entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka

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A name synonymous with Singer (Sri Lanka), Singer sewing machine has over the years become an indispensable product at local households, helping thousands of women and men to make a living through a sewing business. For over six decades, Singer has been manufacturing its trademark sewing machines in Sri Lanka. Singer brand has claimed many firsts in sewing machine innovations including the world’s first zig-zag machine and the first electronic sewing machine.

Singer Industries, a subsidiary of Singer (Sri Lanka) manufactures traditional, portable and digital sewing machines at a fully-fledged facility, where it provides direct employment for over 100 factory workers and accommodates around 150 service agents. The traditional sewing machines are of two variants such as the straight stich and the zig-zag sewing machine, while the portable and digital sewing machines cater to the modern customers. Singer Industries is mandated with assembly of sewing machines and manufacturing of cabinets and stands for sewing machines.

The sewing machine stands and cabinets are 100% locally manufactured with the help of local suppliers who also depend from sewing machine manufacturing. Singer Industries also consists of a strong R&D section for sewing machine innovations. All the sewing machines produced by Singer Industries are distributed by its parent company, Singer (Sri Lanka) through their 431 distribution touch points. Currently, Singer sustains its dominance as the market leader for domestic sewing machine industry with a market share of 85%. Among the facilities, Singer Industries provides to its customers, it has deployed special service technicians at island wide service centres for technical assistance and support related to sewing machines. Its YouTube channel has access to over 130 technical assistance videos to further support its valued customers.

The name ‘’Singer’’ is closely associated with sewing. One of its major contributions to the local sewing industry is the Singer Fashion Academy. For more than 60 years, the Academy has helped thousands of individuals to develop sewing skills and become entrepreneurs. The Fashion Academy conducts sewing courses and diplomas while a degree pathway is to be implemented soon to further support students. The Academy is also the first and only institute in the country to receive course validation status from the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) in the UK.

As of today, the academy consists of 54 branches Island wide and offers 22 sewing courses, 2 diplomas and another 10 courses as part of its Diwi Saviya program for low-income families. Annually, over 5000 – 6000 students get enrolled in Singer Fashion Academy’s courses. In addition to the physical classes, the academy conducts online courses and also provides a recorded version of lessons to further facilitate students. During the last decade, over 60,000 students have successfully completed the Fashion Academy’s courses and some of these students have already started their own sewing businesses. The Fashion Academy has helped in developing the passion of sewing among Sri Lankans and as a result, sewing has become a hobby among many.

Sewing can be considered one of the most feasible self-employment opportunities with its potential to generate a good income. A business of one’s own is a luxury at present due to current economic crisis. Many individuals who started their sewing businesses from scratch have developed their businesses to highly profitable ones. Singer Fashion Academy has all the resources ready to help develop sewing skills and is committed to develop a skilled workforce for the betterment of the country.

(Company news release)

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