Realizing occupational safety and health in the SME sector
Dr. Champika Amarasinghe
World Day for Safety and Health at Work falls on April 28
by Randima Attygalle
With COVID-19 health and safety protocols gaining priority, other work place related health and safety measures seem to be taking a backseat in certain industries. Waging a battle to raise credit to run their businesses and keep employees’ home fires burning in the pandemic-hit world, occupational safety and health (OSH) is largely undermined in small and medium (SME) enterprises.
In a bid to address OSH concerns of the SME sector, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), affiliated to the Ministry of Labour in collaboration with the Small Enterprises Development Division (SED) of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, launched a project to create awareness among industry owners. The three-month project which was launched last November and successfully completed in February this year, was funded by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The project identified 200 industries from Gampaha and Kalutara Districts. The Divisions of Bulathsinhala, Kelaniya, Katana, Weweldeniya, Bataleeya, Beruwala, Panadura, Negombo and Katana were selected for it. Among the chosen industries were garments, brassware, statue-making, batik, cane, jaggery-making, spices, envelope-making and small scale motels – all of which employed less than 20 people.
“The contribution of the informal sector including SMEs to GDP is as important as the contribution made by sectors such as garments, tea and foreign employment,” says Director General, NIOSH, Dr. Champika Amarasinghe. However, the informal sector which includes SMEs doesn’t come within the health and safety legislature of the country, she notes.
“This is a serious concern as occupational hazards, disability levels and other accidents in this sector do not get reported. Absence of compensation becomes a double whammy. Unlike in the case of large industries, OSH in the SMEs is hardly spoken of and that is the very reason for ILO to steer this project,” she added.
The National Policy Framework for SME Development introduced by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce recognizes SMEs as the ‘backbone of the economy’ accounting for more than 75% of the total number of enterprises, providing 45% of the employment and contributing 52% towards GDP. The SME Policy Framework aims to ‘promote high potential, promising SMEs and improve business environment to allow them to realize their full potential in today’s globalized economy.’ The OSH project is also aligned with this.
The ILO report on the theme of ‘Anticipate, prepare and respond to crises- Invest now in resilient OSH systems ‘ issued marking the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, 2021 (falling on April 28) notes: ‘A sound national OSH policy and regulatory framework is essential for the protection and promotion of physical and mental health at work. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the safety and health of workers worldwide.
`The risk of workplace transmission and other associated risks, brought about by the prevention and protection measures taken, have exacerbated existing and emerging OSH risks — including psychosocial risks, poor ergonomics, exposure to chemicals and workplace accidents. This situation calls for strong national OSH policies and regulatory frameworks to ensure that working environments are safe and healthy, and that there is a clear and well-known established set of rights and duties.’
One of the major outcomes of the project is the realization of the value of `investing in OSH’ for long term benefits, points out the NIOSH Director. “The responses to the questionnaires we sent out and the risk assessments carried out by our team reflected a high degree of risk-taking behaviour among these industries. The exposure to skin irritants/chemicals, unguarded furnaces and switches, absence of personal protective equipment, poor electrical and mechanical safety and unsafe machinery was notable.”
Despite the limitations triggered by the pandemic including quarantining of some of the participants and certain areas being isolated, the implementation of the program was a success, remarks Dr. Amarasinghe. “We conducted a series of on-site as well as on-line workshops which were well received. Industry owners and their employees were educated on OSH supporting structures and management policies.”
Development of the National Safety and Health Management System by NIOSH which will extend to SMEs is an ambitious outcome of the program that will enable cost effective OSH interventions including certification systems. “There are very simple yet effective OSH interventions which do not require a lot of money and one of the objectives of the project was to convey this message,” says Dr. Amarasinghe.
“The National Safety and Health Management System makes provisions for SME owners to improve their workstations adhering to optimum safety standards and also to get safe-certifications at an affordable price. Getting international certifications is a costly process which the majority of the SMEs cannot afford and we are supplementing this with a local system.”
The training has also made sharing of knowledge among communities possible. “Very often within the industries we chose, there are sub-contractors to whom the good practices can be extended. In addition, these industries can appoint an employee to be responsible for OSH within their respective industries,” says NIOSH Director. It has also opened a career path to those who aspire to follow courses in OSH offered by NIOSH, some of which are equivalent to NVQ Level 4.
“Following the training, these sectors have now established a link with us and we are happy to be providing the required know-how and assist those who want to go beyond the training and equip themselves professionally with OSH qualifications,” observed Dr. Amarasinghe who added that it is one of the approaches to make this effort sustainable. Replicating the experience in other parts of the island is also envisaged by the project.
Arpico Insurance PLC continues its growth in Q1 2023
Arpico Insurance PLC, one of the most innovative and trusted Life Insurance providers in the country and fully owned subsidiary of the blue-chip conglomerate Richard Pieris & Company PLC, reported a 19.5% growth in Gross Written Premium (GWP) in Q1 of 2023, exhibiting the fifth highest growth in the life insurance industry.
The Group Life business recorded the highest GWP in the company’s history, with over Rs. 226 million, also registering the life insurance industry’s second highest business volume in the reporting quarter.
The rider benefits, which are add-ons and an additional level of protection a policyholder can enjoy along with the main life insurance policy, made a remarkable leap with the company’s rider attachment ratio increasing to over 50%. This momentum that focuses on providing protection was helped by a continuous drive towards attaining an ideal of ‘Insurance for the Living’.
‘We are delighted to have outperformed the life insurance industry despite the various challenges that the country has experienced during recent times and we are continuing our growth trajectory in all aspects of our business. We are very optimistic on the promising outlook of the company and are taking steps to revitalize our strategic priorities in each of the domains,’ said Dr. Kelum Senanayake, CEO and Principal Officer of Arpico Insurance PLC.
Sharing similar sentiments, Pramoda Karunathilake, General Manager – Strategic Planning and Partnerships, said ‘We are looking at improved performance across our key metrics and have especially taken tremendous effort to grow and develop our Group Life insurance business. We have ambitious plans for each of our segments, driven by our cutting-edge processes and exceptional levels of customer care. We are also proud to have produced one of the first COT members of this year, within the industry’.
Sri Lanka Insurance posts a record profit of Rs. 12.47 billion before taxation for the year 2022
The nation’s insurer, Sri Lanka Insurance yet again recorded a stellar performance in the year 2022 to record a profit before taxation of Rs. 12.47 billion for the year 2022, with a combined Gross Written Premium (GWP) of Rs. 41.2 billion.Despite the adverse economic and social conditions that prevailed in the country in the year 2022, Sri Lanka Insurance was able to increase the asset base to Rs.274 billion and the Life fund to Rs. 156.7 billion to uphold the position as the largest and strongest insurer in the country.
Further although placed on a negative watch as all other local insurers due to the current economic situation of the country, Sri Lanka Insurance managed to retain A (lka) Fitch rating for insurer financial strength. SLIC is the only insurer to be certified with an A (lka) rating.
In the year 2022, Sri Lanka Insurance recorded a Life Insurance premium volume of Rs. 20.9 billion. Surpassing its own record, the company declared a staggering sum of Rs. 10.49 billion as Life Insurance bonus to its policyholders. Since 2006 SLIC has triumphed in declaring the highest Life Insurance bonuses year on year in the industry cumulating to a massive Rs. 92.8 billion making the SLIC bonus payout unmatchable.
Sri Lanka insurance Motor Plus the flagship brand emerged Market No 1 again enhancing the lead by Rs. 1.9 billion, recording a total volume of Rs. 12.78 billion premium value securing a market share of 19.6%. The category recorded a 9.5% growth above the industry growth which recorded at 7.3%.
SLIC also introduced many firsts to the Insurance industry in terms of Insurance solutions. Motor Plus Pinnacle the premium motor insurance product, Drive 60 a personal accident cover for senior citizens and JanaRakuma a personal accident cover affordable for all. SLIC also introduced Medi 60 the first and only medical cover for the senior citizens of the country and School Fee Protect the only insurance policy that provides protection for your child’s school fees for the entire school period.
Understanding the modern consumer SLIC has been taking the lead and making steady progress in transforming its operational architecture and front end customer interfaces to ensure increased digital integration to ensure extreme customer convenience. Claim settlement process has been re-engineered to facilitate fast-track and contactless claim settlements to customers.
SLIC also accelerated the digital strategy to systematically automate the systems and processes with the ultimate aim of migrating to a paperless environment at all levels of the business. The “Work Flow Management System” is transforming all internal manual and paper-based operations into digital-driven systemized operations. Payments processes are also transforming towards more digital and paperless procedures to enhance efficiency as well as to reduce cost components. SLIC also ushered in a performance driven culture with assigned KPIs at all levels.
Commenting on the achievements CEO of Sri Lanka Insurance Chandana L. Aluthgama stated – Amidst very challenging market conditions and ever evolving consumer patterns we have been able to demonstrate our resilience and prudent strategic practices to record a phenomenal financial result for the year 2022. We were able to accelerate our strategic initiatives to enhance digital integration and deliver exceptional service levels to our stakeholders and instill a performance driven culture linking rewards accordingly to introduce a variable pay instead of the traditional year on year fix increment. Looking at the future ahead we are geared now with increased internal efficiencies and productivity improvements to face the fast evolving insurance landscape. The success is also an embodiment of the commitment and agility of our staff and field force to an ever evolving insurance market.
Commenting on the financial success SLIC Chairman President’s Counsel Mr. Ronald C. Perera, commented “During unprecedented challenging times SLIC has been able record robust performance retaliating yet again the financial & operational prowess of the company, I thank the board, management and staff of SLIC for their efforts in achieving this remarkable performance”
Sampath Bank maintains a strong value proposition to all its stakeholders amidst ongoing economic challenges
Sampath Bank continued to reinforce its commitment to all stakeholders notwithstanding the ongoing economic challenges. Stepping in to support the customers affected by the prolonged economic downturn, the Bank continued to offer tailormade options and alternative repayment plans to help its customers sustain their businesses while staying true to its ethos of customer value creation. Similarly, the interests of another stakeholder group of the Bank, the shareholders, were kept in mind by paying the industry’s highest cash dividend of Rs 3.45 per share and a further Rs 1.15 per share in the form of scrip dividend.
The Bank also continues to honor its commitments towards the community via the “Weweta Jeewayak” tank restoration initiative as well as the Oceanic Ecosystem Restoration initiative titled “A Breath to the Ocean” which includes coral restoration, mangrove planting, and turtle conservation programs. The Bank continues to honour its commitment towards the community by focusing on environmental sustainability and towards that end completed the restoration of the Halgahawala forest reserve which it will continue to support even after the project’s conclusion.
The Bank succeeded in raising Rs 10 Bn in Tier 2 capital via a debenture issue in February 2023. Despite the depressing economic outlook in the Country, the issue was oversubscribed – a testament to the investor confidence placed in Sampath Bank and widespread acceptance of the stability and prudent governance of the Bank. The newly obtained capital will enable the Bank to rise above and prevail as one of the Country’s pre-eminent Bank.
Sampath Bank registered a profit before tax (PBT) of Rs 4.5 Bn and a profit after tax (PAT) of Rs 2.6 Bn for the three months ended 31st March 2023, indicating a decline of 30.5% and 44.3% respectively from the figures reported in 1Q 2022. This decline was mainly attributed to the exchange losses recorded during the quarter as a result of the appreciation of LKR by Rs 39 against the USD on its foreign currency reserves. All other income lines recorded performance well above the previous period.
Key highlights of financial results declared by Sampath Bank and the Group for 1Q 2023 compared to 1Q 2022:
* Strong NII buttressed by the higher AWPLR.
* 19% increase in net fee and commission income driven by trade-related operations
* As a result of the appreciation of LKR against USD by Rs 39 in 1Q 2023 vs depreciation of Rs 93.75 in 1Q 2022, the exchange income declined by Rs 10.9 Bn.
* 27% increase in impairment provision on loans and advances.
* The high inflationary conditions resulting in 22% increase in operational expenses.
* The upward revision in Income Tax rate and the introduction of SSCL resulting in higher tax expenses.
* Group’s PBT and PAT for 1Q 2023 was Rs 5 Bn and Rs 3 Bn respectively, reflecting a decline of 27% and 38% respectively.
Impairment charge on loans and advances: In the first quarter of 2023, the impairment charge for loans and advances increased by 27% compared to the same period in the previous year.
Impairment on Individually Significant Loan (ISL) Customers:
During the first quarter of 2023, the Bank evaluated a substantial portion of its loans and advances under the ISL category, taking into account both their financial strength and external macroeconomic pressures. Consequently, Rs 4.6 Bn was charged as impairment provisions against ISL customers in the first three months of 2023, an increase of Rs 1.3 Bn compared to the same period in 2022.
Even though a slow recovery was witnessed in some vulnerable industries, the Bank prudently maintained the previous level of impairment provisioning against ISL customers in these industries as it did not deem that the industry risk had significantly declined.
Collective Impairment: Impairment models used in 2022 were continued in 1Q 2023 to ensure adequate buffers were in place to absorb any potential credit risk that could arise in future. This cautious strategy was in response to the uncertain economic conditions witnessed both locally and globally. The Bank continued to maintain in 2023, the allowance for overlay which it applied in 2022. The probability weightage applied to the worst-case economic scenario remained unchanged during the reporting period.
During the period under review, the Bank also proceeded to reclassify customers from Stage 1 to Stage 2 considering their potential credit risk. Meanwhile customers operating in Risk Elevated Industries were also reclassified under Stage 2, with additional provisions recognized against them.
Impairment charge on other financial instruments:
The impairment charge on other financial instruments amounted to Rs 0.4 Bn for 1Q 2023, a 95% reduction compared to Rs 6.7 Bn reported in the corresponding period of the previous year. In 1Q 2022, the Bank recognised a substantial impairment charge against FCY denominated government securities in response to the downgrade of Sri Lanka’s sovereign rating in April 2022 and the announcement by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) on the restructuring of the country’s external debt through an IMF-supported economic adjustment program. No such provisioning was deemed necessary in 1Q 2023 as substantial provisioning had already been recognized against the said instruments as at 31st December 2022.
Operating expenses in 1Q 2023 showed a 22% increase in comparison to the first quarter of 2022. The 41% increase in other expenses could be attributed to the prevailing inflationary conditions and other factors such as LKR depreciation, increased taxes and import restriction. Personnel costs too grew by 7.4% in 2023 mainly owing to annual salary increases.
Total effective tax rate of the Bank increased to 57% in 1Q 2023 from 42% reported in 1Q 2022, owing to the combined effect of the newly introduced Social Security Contribution Levy (SSCL) and the increase in income tax rate.
The Return on Average Shareholders’ Equity (after tax) decreased to 8.37% as at 31st March 2023 from 10.95% reported at the end of the year 2022. Return on Average Assets (before tax) stood at 1.38% as at 31st March 2023 as against the 1.16% reported as at 31st December 2022.
The Bank’s latest capital adequacy ratios improved further in 1Q 2023 from the figures reported in the previous quarter in addition to their being well above the regulatory minimum requirements. As at 31st March 2023, Sampath Bank’s CET 1, Tier 1 and total capital ratios were at 12.51%, 12.51% and 16.12% compared to 11.92%, 11.92% and 14.27% respectively at the end of 2022. These increases are attributed to two main reasons – Rs 10 Bn worth of Tier 2 capital infusion in February 2023 and decline in risk weighted assets resulting from the LKR appreciation.
Assets and Liabilities
Total assets of the Bank declined by Rs 18 Bn (by 1.4%) from Rs 1.32 Tn as at 31st December 2022 to Rs 1.31 Tn as at 31st March 2023. This decline was mainly the result of the Rupee value reduction in foreign currency denominated assets on the back of the LKR appreciation against the USD.
Similarly, the total Advances declined by Rs 22 Bn (by 2.4%) in the first three months of 2023 from Rs 920 Bn as at 31st December 2022 to Rs 898 Bn at the end of the reporting period due to the LKR appreciation against the USD.
Sampath Bank’s total deposit book declined from Rs 1.1 Tn reported at the end of 31st December 2022 to Rs 1.07 Tn at the end of 31st March 2023, a decline of Rs 32 Bn (by 2.9%). The CASA ratio at the end of 1Q 2023 was 32.8% compared to 32.7% reported at the end of 2022.
The Shareholders of Sampath Bank at the Annual General Meeting held on 30th March 2023 approved the final Cash Dividend of Rs 3.45 per share and Scrip Dividend of Rs 1.15 per share for the financial year 2022. In its 1Q 2023 Financial Statements, the Bank made a provision of Rs 5.3 Bn to facilitate the payment of the approved final dividend, while Rs 1.1 Bn was capitalized for the purpose of creating shares under scrip dividend. The Bank paid the dividend in April 2023.
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