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Safeguarding lives and livelihood of Sri Lankans

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Pandemics and Disruptions:

by Suresh Ranasinghe

The impact of COVID-19 on Sri Lanka’s labour market, education, migration, and health sectors were discussed at the second webinar panel discussion held on October 13, to mark the release of the ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2021’ report, the flagship report of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS).

The event saw presentations by Dr Nisha Arunatilake and Dr Bilesha Weeraratne from IPS, with expert insights from Ms Madhavie Gunawardena, Director of TRCSL and Former Commissioner of Labour and Dr Kolitha Wickramage, Global Migration Health Research and Epidemiology Coordinator, Migration Health Division, International Organization for Migration (IOM). Ashani Abayasekera from IPS moderated the discussion.

Key highlights of the discussion are presented in this blog.

Presentation: Labour Markets and Education

Dr Nisha Arunatilake

An estimated 225 million people lost their jobs globally in 2020 due to COVID-19, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Sri Lanka’s labour market was also severely affected, with 150,000 people losing jobs and the quality of available jobs deteriorated with many workers taking on more vulnerable forms of employment (eg. agriculture, self-employment) that have low social security. The unemployment rate rose by 0.7% in 2020. The most affected were youth, low and medium-skilled individuals, and males, while several women left the labour market altogether.

The pandemic affected different types of workers differently. Frontline workers were the most vulnerable, and a large share of frontline workers are females. The ILO has classified industries according to their COVID-19-related economic output risk. This calculation was used to see how COVID-19 has affected different types of workers, and it shows that 39% of workers are in high-risk industries in Sri Lanka. Further, medium-skilled workers and women are more likely to be in high-risk industries.

The government took various measures to provide relief to workers, but the relief packages were given is not as sizeable as the types of relief provided in other countries.  IPS research shows that the perception of employees, employers, and trade union leaders is that the government could have done better by providing financial support through the EPF/ETF funds, as done in other countries like India.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of providing pre-retirement social protection such as unemployment benefits and wage support during illnesses in addition to current post-retirement social protection measures. Therefore, it is necessary to create a separate fund to provide pre-retirement social protection as practised in Nepal, Malaysia, and Singapore.

A recent IPS study finds that, Sri Lanka’s ETF funds are sufficient to cover sickness and unemployment benefits to workers and provide wage support to retain jobs. In summary, the government must improve and expand access to social security for employees and firms, support firms to offer flexible work arrangements for higher labour participation and develop better labour market institutions that have the capacity to collect timely data and are prepared to address disaster risks.

Since March 2020, schools across Sri Lanka were closed other than for few brief periods of operation and the total number of school days missed are significantly higher in Sri Lanka compared to other countries. Even though the Ministry of Education and associated organisations provided lessons online and via TV, less than 50% of the students were reached online and in smaller schools, only 30% were reached by both online and TV. There needs to be an assessment done about the learning losses, and adjust the curricular, so that schools can focus on the most needed competencies to streamline and speed up the recovery.

Migration and Health

Dr Bilesha Weeraratne

A large number of migrant workers were forced to return much earlier than they planned due to the pandemic, and it affected earnings and their capacity to return. Notably, most of the returnees were either self-financed or their employer paid for their return air ticket. Limitations in Sri Lanka’s return and repatriation efforts were not able to bring a wide cross-section of returnees back to Sri Lanka from the onset itself. On average, there was a 4.5-month delay between the decision to return and the actual date of return. This was also because of the lack of proper information. Sri Lanka has a return and reintegration sub policy, and the issue was that it was not implemented.

Returning migrant workers require economic, social and psychosocial reintegration support but reintegration support was largely limited to immediate health support (testing, quarantine, treatment). Also, issues associated with the vaccination process in Sri Lanka such as irregular and inconsistent supply, delays in NMRA approvals, disorganised deployment etc. caused the delays in vaccinating potential migrant workers as well. However, the vaccination process for migrant workers was much better organised than the overall vaccination process in the country.

Sri Lanka sends 225,000 workers abroad while foreign annual exchange earnings is USD7 billion. Although in 2020 there were just 53,713 registered departures, remittances increased grew by 5.8%. They began declining since the beginning of 2021. There were many reasons for the growth last year like informal remittance channels being closed due to the lockdown and workers increasing their remittances through formal channels. Further, workers who were terminated would have got lump sums as terminal benefits which were remitted, while another reason would have been the reluctance of returnees to carry cash as they had to be quarantined on arrival.

Commentary: Labour Markets and Education

Ms Madhavie Gunawardena

The COVID-19 pandemic has flagged the need for Sri Lanka to revisit its labour laws and regulations. Since the labour market was forced to accept work from home (WFH), accommodating flexibility in labour legislation and other legislation governing the workplace is essential. Accommodating flexible working practices is important, especially for women, as this allows them to balance their family and work responsibilities, thus retaining them in the labour force. With prolonged school closures, there is currently no way of improving the students’ soft skills as extra-curricular and co-curricular activities were halted. This will affect their employability in the future.

Commentary: Migration and Health

Dr Kolitha Wickramage

In the migration sector, future policy decisions should take into consideration factors such as the gender dimension of returnees and skills requirements of migrant workers as well. Psychosocial health and mental health are extremely important for the reintegration package since this is still an unmet agenda. Even though the overall vaccination process including vaccination for migrant workers in Sri Lanka is appreciable, the number of deaths and serious cases can be averted if a more systematic strategy such as those provided by WHO Sage recommendations were followed. The IPS State of the Economy report must be commended for recognising the need to address psychosocial issues of migrants, in addition to their social and economic issues.



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Dialog Smart Home Enables Seamless Home Automation via Range of Intuitive Solutions 

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Dialog Axiata PLC, Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, introduced a range of convenient and integrated solutions via ‘Dialog Smart Home’ to enable intelligent automation and intuitive control of homes.

The newly introduced range of future-fit smart home solutions by Dialog Smart Home ranges from Home Automation, Home Security & Surveillance and Home Connectivity, and are designed to enable any home to work as one harmonious system where all elements work in tandem together to create a truly intelligent home.

The Home Automation solutions offer homeowners seamless and convenient control of their electronic appliances through their smartphones anytime, anywhere. With the Smart Touch Wall Switches, Smart Power Strips and Smart Fan Controllers, homeowners can take control of existing light bulbs, table fans, rice cookers, chargers, ceiling fans and more appliances. Additionally, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered TeDi Alexa Solution enables users to control connected smart devices including TVs, air conditioners, home security systems and more through voice commands.

Home Security & Surveillance solutions transform basic cameras into high-powered CCTV solutions. Baby and house monitoring smart cameras can be placed inside homes to keep a 360-degree eye on children and pets. The Indoor Security Camera has the ability to sound a siren and notify users if a stranger enters their home. Dialog Smart Home has also partnered with Singer to offer customers world-renowned Dahua CCTV solutions.

The Home Connectivity solutions offers consumers Wi-Fi extenders to facilitate uninterrupted internet connectivity across the house to fit the homeowner’s lifestyle and requirements.

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CBSL implements extraordinary measures to support banking sector

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The Central Bank of Sri Lanka, considering the prevailing macroeconomic conditions and its impact on the banking sector, has decided to implement the following regulatory measures to support the banking sector to facilitate effective financial intermediation and the flow of credit to the economy, whilst ensuring the soundness of the banking sector.

• Sri Lankan banking sector maintains a Capital Conservation Buffer (CCB) of 2.5% to ensure that banks have an additional layer of usable capital that can be drawn down during stress times. An industry wide flexibility is granted for banks to drawdown the CCB (up to 2.5%), if needed, subject to restrictions on distribution to shareholders/ repatriation of profits and submission of a capital augmentation plan to rebuild CCB during a period up to three years.

• The current deadline for licensed banks to meet the enhanced minimum capital requirement (31.12.2022) is extended up to 31.12.2023. Licensed banks which are unable to meet the minimum capital requirement by 31.12.2022, need to submit their capital augmentation plan, including plans to consolidate or merge with suitable financial institutions, by 31.12.2022 and these licensed banks too shall refrain from distribution of dividends/ repatriation of profits until the minimum capital requirement is met.

• Licensed banks are encouraged to move to approaches such as The Standardised Approach (TSA) or alternative TSA for computation of risk weighted assets for operational risk for the purposes of computing the Capital Adequacy Ratio, subject to supervisory review.

• Licensed banks are given the flexibility to stagger the unrealised mark to market loss on Government Securities denominated in LKR on account of the recent interest rate hike for Capital Adequacy purposes until Q2 of 2024, subject to conditions.

• Licensed banks are granted flexibility on the treatment for Other Comprehensive Income (OCI) for Capital Adequacy purpose in line with the International Standards.

• The deadline for licensed banks to submit the document on Internal Capital Adequacy Assessment Process (ICAAP) for 2022, to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka is extended by one month, until 30.06.2022.

• As a short-term measure to support licensed banks to adjust their liquidity profiles, licensed banks are provided with the flexibility to operate maintaining the Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) and Net Stable Funding Ratio (NSFR) not lower than 90% up to 30.09.2022. Furthermore, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, on 06 May 2022 decided to restrict certain discretionary payments of licensed banks, such as declaring cash dividends and repatriation of profits, until the financial statements for the year 2022 are audited by its External Auditor, engaging in share buy backs, increasing management allowances and payments to the Board of Directors until 31 December 2022 with a view to strengthening the liquidity and capital positions of licensed banks under these exceptional circumstances.

The above measures were introduced with the aim of providing the licensed banks with more flexibility and opportunities to operate in these challenging conditions and support economic recovery, while taking measures to improve their safety and soundness. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka will periodically review the implementation of these policy measures and expects licensed banks to avail these measures in the best interest of the customers and the economy at large, while supporting the banking sector to remain resilient.

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CEAT official tyre supplier for locally assembled Tata Ace HT 

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CEAT Kelani Holdings has been appointed as the official tyre supplier for Tata Ace HT series compact trucks which are assembled in Sri Lanka by DIMO in collaboration with India’s largest automobile manufacturer TATA Motors.

 CEAT RHINO PLUS TL tyres in the size of 155R12 8PR, manufactured at the CEAT Kelani plant in Kelaniya are used for the TATA Ace HT series vehicles, popularly known in Sri Lanka as “DIMO Batta” under this project. The locally manufactured CEAT RHINO PLUS TL tyre features a zig zag pattern on its circumference and ribs with lateral notches that contribute towards uniformity and better wear and tear on local roads.

 Commenting on this latest OEM agreement of the company, CEAT Kelani Holdings Managing Director Mr. Ravi Dadlani said: “As a brand that has been at the forefront of local value addition in Sri Lanka, CEAT is excited to contribute further to the process through its association with this assembly operation. This is particularly relevant in the prevailing situation in the domestic market. We are able to provide high-quality tyres engineered for local conditions at competitive prices and ensure uninterrupted supply, while at the same time helping to conserve foreign exchange.”

In January this year, CEAT was appointed as an OEM for a range of heavy-duty trucks, tippers and light commercial vehicles assembled in Sri Lanka by Lanka Ashok Leyland PLC (LAL), a joint venture company of Ashok Leyland India. In November 2021 the brand was chosen as the OEM for Bolero City Pik-up vehicles assembled in Sri Lanka by Mahindra & Mahindra India in collaboration with Ideal Motors.

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