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SMEs and entities serving domestic and foreign markets worst hit in COVID-19 crisis



By Lynn Ockersz

SMEs and businesses serving domestic and foreign markets were the worst-hit sectors at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey titled ‘An Initial Assessment of the Impact of COVID-19 on Employers’, carried out by The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) reveals.

‘While the hospitality and food service sector recorded the highest economic losses in terms of revenue, foreign exchange earnings and investment, exporters employing more than 250 employees lost all their earnings, the survey report goes on to disclose. Commenting on the latter finding, the assessment states that, ‘Since large scale companies account for about 95% of total export earnings, the impact on the balance of trade will be devastating.’

The survey report was presented to the media on July 30 at the EFC auditorium, Rajagiriya by a panel of experts headed by Director General EFC Kanishka Weerasinghe. The survey period was April-May 2020 and covered 100 firms, employing 125,000+ employees. Highlights of the report were presented by Advisor HR & Coordinator Research of the EFC Dinesh Ruwan Kumara. The EFC intends using the study findings to ‘inform policy makers about the interventions necessary to help companies to manage the crisis and grow out of it.’

In his opening remarks EFC DG Weerasinghe said, among other things, that the pandemic was ‘like shifting sands’ and that the world needs to ‘prepare for future pandemic waves’ and their aftermath. He added that the adverse fallout from the crisis on local companies was contained by the EFC-formulated Tripartite Agreement on Wages. The latter ensured that local livelihoods were retained and helped guard against ‘mass unemployment’. The EFC has submitted a 10 point policy to the government on issues growing out of the pandemic and their containment.

Some other crucial findings of the survey are:

* More than half of all responding companies were faced with serious cash flow problems in meeting day-to-day expenses. The cash flow of about 18% of the companies was sufficient only for one month while another 39% stated that they could survive for about three months.

* Subjective estimates of job losses by responding companies averaged at 7% and 9% for executive and non-executive staff respectively, across the sample. The highest job losses among non-executive staff were reported in the finance and insurance and manufacturing (15%) subsectors, followed by hospitality and food services (11%), agriculture (6%), and wholesale and retail trade (5%). Among executive staff, the highest job losses were reported in manufacturing(10%), finance and insurance (8.3%) and information and communication (7.5%).

*All responding companies identified workforce protection to be the most important coping strategy at organizational level, while Work from Home(WfH) was the second most important measure, particularly in sub-sectors dominated by office-type occupations in the service sector.

* Labour market-related policies were identified by respondents as the most important area that the government needs to address. Sri Lanka’s existing labour laws do not provide for pandemic-like situations, leaving a huge gap in institutional mechanisms to manage crises of this kind.

* Among monetary and fiscal policy remedial measures, employers suggested the reduction of interest rates, extension of debt moratoria and granting credit and other financial support for firms to re-start operations.


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Vehicle emission testing service earns high praise from customers



Recognised as Sri Lanka’s leading-edge vehicle emission testing network, Drivegreen has won high praise from customers for its knowledgeable, disciplined and polite workforce, according to a recent customer service survey conducted by the company.

A common thread that echoed across the survey was the customer-oriented, friendly and attentive service extended by the team as the main reasons Drivegreen was repeatedly selected by customers for emission testing.

According to feedback received from a customer in Mawathagama, S.N.S Seneviratne who is a veteran driver said, “Firstly I believe, vehicle testing is an extremely valuable responsibility that has been undertaken by the company. I realise that due to the continuous vehicle testing, the release of toxic gas to the atmosphere has been minimized, enhancing air quality in this country. When compared to earlier days, we were engulfed by vehicle smoke and could not even walk on the road. However, now we witness a remarkable difference and we breathe cleaner air.”

“The staff are also extremely pleasant and helpful and as a result we do not waste our time unduly when waiting to be served or for testing,” he added.

Entrepreneur, Thasnim Kiyad from Maradana observed that as a result of receiving a comprehensive inspection via testing, it has helped him in ensuring the roadworthiness of his vehicle. The results of the emission test act as a guide to enable him to carry out the necessary maintenance and also make sure the fuel efficiency of his vehicle is maintained.

“As a result of conducting the vehicle emission test, I am made aware of any necessary maintenance required for the vehicle which I can attend to immediately. Once, my vehicle failed the test. The team instantly offered invaluable advice, and based on that I was able to make the required adjustments. Following this, when I re-tested, not only did my vehicle pass the emission test but the vehicle’s fuel efficiency was enhanced. Since then for several years now I continuously conduct my emission testing and continue to find the staff extremely competent and friendly,” he stated.


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BOC targets Rs. 50 bn coronavirus business bounce back loans



Bank of Ceylon chairman Kanchana Ratwatte engages in religious activities at BOC headquarters in Colombo yesterday with Acting General Manager D.P.K Gunasekera, Board of Directors, senior management and staff. Pic by Sujatha Jayaratne

by Sanath Nanayakkare

Bank of Ceylon (BOC) chairman Kanchana Ratwatte said in Colombo yesterday that the Bank has set its sights on distributing Covid-19 bounce back business loans totaling Rs. 50 billion going forward.

“The government has developed and announced a range of measures aimed at supporting the economy, businesses and employees through the COVID-19 crisis, and the BOC will play a significant role in the government’s business support mechanisms with a view to reigniting the economy back to pre-Covid-19 level”, he said.

BOC chairman made these remarks at an event where BOC celebrated its 81st anniversary, leading the banking and finance landscape in Sri Lanka.

Speaking further Ratwatte said: “The Central Bank has proposed loan schemes to help revive affected businesses and increase money circulation in the country. BOC staff and senior management should work as one to achieve this objective. Under trying circumstances during the pandemic the entire staff rallied round BOC to keep the wheels of commerce moving in the country. BOC made a significant role in moving the economy in the right direction. I want to thank the government and the Central Bank for their guidance and support during this period. Entire staff of the bank had to make many sacrifices too.

‘’Those efforts were never mentioned in the media or elsewhere. In fact, it was under very trying circumstances, services were rendered by the banking sector. Despite the health risk, we kept the banks open throughout the period. Everybody from the lower level employee to the DGM to Acting GM made their fullest contribution to keep BOC operations moving. The health threat is not over yet, But we need to get our 12 million strong customers participating actively in the economy back again. We have started going to regions in the country and encouraging our customers to come to the bank and start their normal business activities.

‘’BOC has a share of 40% of foreign remittances and we have been able to maintain that level up to the end of July except for the month of June where there was a small deviation. Every other month despite the covid situation foreign remittances have flowed to the bank as usual. I would like to call upon the staff and senior management of BOC that despite the challenges we are facing, we need to address the concerns of the government of Sri Lanka. The main focus of the government is to ensure that there is enough liquidity in the system. Most of the relief schemes and moratoriums have been introduced by the Central Bank to ensure that there is adequate money circulation in the market for which purpose we have to think beyond the usual banking practices – without breaking the rules and well within the realm of our accepted banking practices – and help keep the wheels of commerce moving”.

D.P.K Gunasekera, Acting General Manager-BOC said,”BOC has distributed about Rs, 9 billion coronavirus business bounce back loans. Potential loan grants worth Rs. 6 billion have been registered with the Central Bank. In addition to that, our branch network is currently in the process of reviewing loans worth Rs. 12 billion. Thus BOC is working ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the government to achieve quick economic recovery”.

A number of leading businesspeople of the country who are top-line customers of the bank took part in the event.


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Nihonbashi partners Luxe Colombo on 25th anniversary



Nihonbashi, an iconic dining destination has partnered with Luxe Colombo to create a food-hall concept, where premium imported products are available for purchase or can be enjoyed at the ‘Taste Lab’. This is the first space in Sri Lanka where an extensive range of specialty cheeses and cold-cuts are paired with wines from around the world and can be sampled at the space itself.

After 25 years in its original location, a stone’s throw from Galle Face Green, famed Chef-restaurateur Dharshan Munidasa decided it was time to adopt a modern concept of a ‘deli-style’ space where specially curated menus could come into play along with small pop-ups showcasing his love of Japanese cuisine and steaks. It would also be a space for his chef friends to host pop-ups, to capture the attention of a growing segment of discerning luxury diners, while at the same time staying true to the Zen spirit of Nihonbashi, which prides itself on high-quality produce and authenticity that has kept raising the bar over 25 years and was in fact the first restaurant in Sri Lanka to ever make it to the prestigious Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list. Luxe Colombo has fast earned a solid reputation as a purveyor of fine-foods from Europe and delivery options are also available out of this well-located space.

The ‘Taste Lab’ embodies the best of the brand’s personality. Visitors to the space are met with a sense of serenity and anticipation as they walk across the pond. The space has been designed to maintain its Zen interiors in this atrium flooded with natural light. It brings an open-air courtyard feel inside and the leafy-green foliage used as decor adds to the fresh feel. Original features such as the bamboo columns and pond are highlighted at night with subtle lighting.

Ready-made vegan soups, aged soy-sauce, a delectable range of freshly-made mayonnaises and many other Nihonbashi ready-to-go products are also available at ‘Taste Lab’ along with Luxe Colombo’s gourmet collection.


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