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.
Creating innovative spaces and world class construction projects
The Access Group consists of some of the country’s pioneering and innovative companies that have contributed to Sri Lanka’s corporate landscape.
Access Projects is among them – they commenced their own unique journey into creating iconic buildings with their flagship Access Towers 25 years ago. At the time, it was a unique building with its own footprint.
Heading the Access Projects is Managing Director Dilshan Ferdinando who has been associated with creating architecturally exceptional innovative spaces that have gone on to be some of the finest buildings in Sri Lanka.
The company made their mark in the field of construction in the leisure industry – from the interior fit out of the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel, to the lobby refurbishment and improvements of Chaya Blue in Trincomalee and Chaya Tranz in Hikkaduwa.
Another unique project was The Water’s Edge Golf Club, Club House and the banquet hall, undertaken personally by Dilshan himself to transform a marshy land into Colombo’s second Golf Course. This was a sustainable venture that was spread over 160 acres with an engineered set of water ways, lakes and canals. It involved removing perimeter urban waste and dredging 50 acres and using that material to create the golf playing fields. It still stands today with every tree retained and functional as a banquet facility.
” This was at the time when the war had ended and the hospitality industry was taking off. ” recalls Dilshan, ” We went on to do several banquet halls for city hotels as well as the renovations of the villas of Club Dolphin at Waikkal, yet another iconic hotel.”
The interiors of Waters Edge Golf & Country Club including the banquet hall was designed and built by Access Projects initially.
Yet another unique venture undertaken by Access Projects was the construction of Cape Weligama, a 50 key ultra-luxury resort for The Dilmah Group. “The project involved creating one of a kind, iconic villas with 13 swimming pools – the moon shaped pool was the largest infinity pool in Sri Lanka at the time, in 2014. The projects sought to use timber and locally sourced material for sustainability. It came with specific attention to detail, creating spaces that were all its own,” he adds.
When the iconic Galle Face Hotel sought restoration and renovation to meet the design elements of the Fifties, they chose Access Projects to handle the construction. Dilshan recalls carrying out extensive research with old photographs, paying attention to details and highlights that brought out the old world look and feel. A new ballroom was added to blend in with the existing architectural design of the old one, while all systems were renovated and updated.
Access Projects has also undertaken several iconic projects such as the Anantara Resort, a 250 key luxury hotel for the Hemas Group along with staff quarters and the banquet hall.
Access Projects was tasked with the construction of a modern 18 storeyed building for the Academy of Design – it came with specific design requirements – ‘ we made sure every one of those requirements were met – within budget and the time frame given.” he says.
Accredited with ISO 9001 – 2008 and ISO 14001 – 2004, and accredited to CIDA (Construction Industry Development Authority), Access Projects specializes in midscale specialist construction projects that call for attention to detail and meeting exacting architect and customer needs.
ComBank wins Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Award 2021
The Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC was declared Sri Lanka’s ‘Best Corporate Citizen’ in 2021 by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) on Tuesday night, achieving the pinnacle of recognition for sustainability and good corporate citizenship in the country’s corporate sector.
The coveted ‘Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Award 2021’ was presented to Sri Lanka’s benchmark bank at an awards gala attended by the cream of corporate Sri Lanka, in recognition of the Bank’s status as the sustainable champion of the local corporate world.
Commercial Bank also won the award for the Finance sector at the awards for ‘Sector Based Sustainability Champions,’ the ‘Governance’ certificate in the category awards for ‘Consistent Commitment and Continuous Improvement’ and was second runner-up for the newly-introduced award for ‘Demonstrated Resilient Practices for COVID-19 Context,’ in addition to receiving an award for being among the Top 10 Best Corporate Citizens in Sri Lanka.
“Sustainability is the cornerstone of our corporate ethos and influences everything we do,” Commercial Bank Managing Director and Group CEO S. Renganathan commented. “This is demonstrated by the fact that we are Sri Lanka’s first fully carbon neutral bank. Commercial Bank is therefore elated to win the Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Award for 2021. This will be a stimulus for an even deeper commitment to best practices in sustainability at every employee level.”
The Finance sector award recognises Commercial Bank’s position as the most progressive banking institution in the country and its commitment to preserving the environment through responsible lending protocols. The Bank’s multifaceted Green initiatives include lending to support Sustainable and Green operations, migrating customers to paperless banking, improving efficiency in the use of energy, water and other resources in its own operations and supporting community initiatives that help conserve habitats and the environment.
The Bank pioneered a mandatory social and environmental screening process for its project lending activities and was the first bank in Sri Lanka to venture into Green Financing. It also revolutionised digital banking by introducing features in its ‘Flash’ mobile application to measure and offset customer impact on the environment. The Bank has also achieved the momentous feat of becoming the largest lender to the SME sector and is a leader in digital innovation in the country’s banking sector.
Commercial Bank finances projects that focus on renewable energy, energy and resource efficiency, waste management, emission reductions, smart agriculture and green buildings. The Bank’s Green Financing is geared towards the fight against climate change, meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 12: Affordable and Clean Energy, and Responsible Consumption and Production.
Additionally, the Bank has numerous commitments including a mangrove restoration project in Koggala, a marine turtle conservation initiative to protect the biodiversity of the ocean, and support to the ‘Thuru Mithuru’ initiative of the Sri Lanka Army to promote self-sufficiency in essential food.
The Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Awards programme has been in operation for 18 consecutive years and received 63 applications in 2021, the highest number of applications received in the history of the programme.
Established in 1839, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce is the oldest and one of the leading business chambers in Sri Lanka. A confederation of Trade Associations, Bilateral Business Councils, and Regional and Sectoral Chambers of Commerce and Industry, it is considered the leading voice of the private sector in Sri Lanka.
The first Sri Lankan bank to be listed among the Top 1000 Banks of the World and the only Sri Lankan bank to be so listed for 11 years consecutively, Commercial Bank operates a network of 268 branches and 931 automated machines in Sri Lanka. The Bank’s overseas operations encompass Bangladesh, where the Bank operates 19 outlets; Myanmar, where it has a Microfinance company in Nay Pyi Taw; and the Maldives, where the Bank has a fully-fledged Tier I Bank with a majority stake.
CEAT radials designated Original Equipment for locally–assembled Mahindra Bolero City Pik-ups
CEAT Kelani Holdings has reached another milestone in radial tyre manufacture in Sri Lanka with the Company’s appointment as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for Bolero City Pik-up vehicles assembled in Sri Lanka by Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) India in collaboration with Ideal Motors.
All Mahindra Bolero City Pik-ups rolling off the assembly line at the Mahindra Ideal Lanka Automotive Assembly Plant at Welipenna, Matugama are fitted with CEAT Milaze HD radial tyres in the size of 215/75 R15, manufactured at the CEAT Kelani plant in Kelaniya, under an OEM agreement between the two companies.
CEAT has already supplied 180 of these high performance radial tyres for 36 vehicles that will be assembled in November and December this year and has committed to supply up to 720 tyres per month from January 2022 onwards for a targeted maximum of 144 vehicles to be produced monthly by the Mahindra Ideal Lanka joint venture, the Company said.
Commenting on the agreement, CEAT Kelani Managing Director Ravi Dadlani said: “We are delighted to contribute to the local value addition component of the Mahindra and Ideal Motors venture, while doing what we do best – producing high quality tyres designed and engineered for local conditions and supporting the government’s efforts to conserve foreign exchange. Over the past two decades, CEAT has built the equity of the ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ proposition in the tyre industry, and we are proud and appreciative of the opportunity, as exclusive tyre supplier, to support the aspirations of Mahindra and Ideal Motors to progress to vehicles made in Sri Lanka.”
The Managing Director of Mahindra Ideal Lanka Pvt Ltd. Nalin Welgama noted that “This new initiative is a step in the right direction and supports the government policy framework for Sri Lanka’s migration from a market economy to a production-based economy.”
The CEAT Milaze tyres manufactured by CEAT Kelani for the Mahindra Bolero City Pik-up feature profiled shoulder lateral grooves that provide better heat dissipation and wide-angle circumferential grooves that resist cuts and chips. Angular transversal notches and sipes provide enhanced grip and uniform wear, while the angular notched 4-rib high land area design provides longer tyre life and durability.
No stranger to the OEM segment, CEAT Kelani Holdings has been the exclusive original equipment tyre supplier for Mahindra KUV100 compact SUVs assembled in Sri Lanka since 2019. All locally-assembled Mahindra KUV100 vehicles are fitted with CEAT FUELSMARRT 185/60 R 15 tyres.
CEAT Kelani Holdings is considered one of the most successful India – Sri Lanka joint ventures. The joint venture’s cumulative investment in Sri Lanka to date totals Rs 8 billion, inclusive of Rs 3 billion invested since January 2018 for expansion of volumes, technology upgrades and new product development. The company’s manufacturing operations in Sri Lanka encompass pneumatic tyres in the radial (passenger cars, vans and SUVs), commercial (nylon and radial), motorcycle, three-wheeler and agricultural vehicle segments.
The CEAT brand accounts for market shares in Sri Lanka of 48 per cent in the Radial segment, 80 per cent in the Truck category, 84 per cent Light Truck tyre category, 51 per cent in the Three-Wheeler tyre segment, 36 per cent in the Motorcycle tyre segment and 72 per cent in the Agricultural vehicle tyre category. CEAT Kelani exports about 20 per cent of its production to 16 countries in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Far East.
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