Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka

Priority was the safety of life, not the change to our overall employment profile – President tells at ILO Global Summit

Although the repatriation of Sri Lankan workers from abroad in the wake of COVID-19 spread made a considerable change to our overall employment profile, our aim was to secure the lives of our workforce, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said.

“Sri Lanka has a considerable workforce that is employed outside the country. Even during the period when restrictions for air travel were in force , we have repatriated nearly 15,000 Sri Lankans from destinations abroad so far” President said addressing ILO Global Summit on “COVID-19 and the World of Work – Building a Better Future of Work” today (08).

The Summit hosted by the International Labour Organization commenced on July 1st will continue till tomorrow 9th July. Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres,  Director-General of the World Health Organization and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu and   several world leaders addressed the largest ever online gathering of workers, employers and governments.

Participants are discussing how to address the economic and social impact of the pandemic, which has laid bare the extreme vulnerability of millions of workers and enterprises.

The Global Summit examines a range of issues, including how to promote full and productive employment in this new environment, what needs to be done to address the massive vulnerabilities in the world of work made evident by the pandemic, which workers require particular support and attention, how to position the reduction and elimination of poverty as central objectives of the recovery process and how the international community can come together with real common purpose and rededicate itself to the delivery of the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

President said he appreciates the efforts that all countries have taken for smooth sailings of their ‘Worlds of Work’ at this sensitive period when we all are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 posed us with perhaps the greatest human crisis in the modern period. As a result, the ‘World of Work’ is undergoing a massive reorganization in the post COVID-19 period in developed as well as developing countries alike”.

Explaining the Sri Lankan context President said particular attention was paid to safeguard our work force from the shock wave that was created by the impact that this pandemic had on the global economy.

We have an active labour force of 8.6 million, out of which, the private sector employs nearly 3.5 million. The social security measures that we introduced during the COVID outbreak covered all sectors of this workforce.

 “The most notable one was the payment of a fixed monthly allowance (of Rs. 5,000/-) to the most affected self-employed categories in our work force during April and May. These included all employees on a daily wage as well as many other vulnerable categories such as pre-school teachers and self-employed persons”, President said.

The Sri Lankan workers who returned from overseas will now have the choice to join the local labour force, without returning to their original countries of employment. This in turn will shape the ‘new normal’ of our ‘world of work’.

Skills sector of Sri Lanka required a re-thinking and re-engineering, in order to accommodate the new normal of the post-COVID period said the President adding that  ‘Re-skilling’ and ‘upskilling’ of employees will be addressed in our action plan to empower those who lost employment during this crisis.

Full text of the message delivered by the President:

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to share my thoughts at the ILO Global Summit on “COVID-19 and the World of Work – Building a Better Future of Work”.

I wish to appreciate the efforts that all countries have taken for smooth sailings of their ‘Worlds of Work’ at this sensitive period when we all are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 posed us with perhaps the greatest human crisis in the modern period. As a result, the ‘World of Work’ is undergoing a massive reorganization in the post COVID-19 period in developed as well as developing countries alike.

Sri Lanka is a developing economy with a sensitivity to external determinants. We paid particular attention to safeguard our work force from the shock wave that was created by the impact that this pandemic had on the global economy.

We have an active labour force of 8.6 million, out of which, the private sector employs nearly 3.5 million. The social security measures that we introduced during the COVID outbreak covered all sectors of this workforce.

The most notable one was the payment of a fixed monthly allowance (of Rs. 5,000/-) to the most affected self-employed categories in our work force during April and May. These included all employees on a daily wage as well as many other vulnerable categories such as pre-school teachers and self-employed persons.

Sri Lanka has a considerable workforce that is employed outside the country. Even during the period where restrictions for air travel were imposed, we have repatriated nearly 15,000 Sri Lankans from destinations abroad so far. Although this made a considerable change to our overall employment profile, our aim was to secure the lives of our work force. This fraction of the labour force will now have the choice to join the local labour force, without returning to their original countries of employment. This in turn will shape the ‘new normal’ of our ‘world of work’.

Skills sector of Sri Lanka required a re-thinking and re-engineering, in order to accommodate the new normal of the post-COVID period.  ‘Re-skilling’ and ‘upskilling’ of employees will be addressed in our action plan to empower those who lost employment during this crisis.

Sri Lanka has pledged to eliminate hazardous child labour by 2022. Abiding by this commitment, our Department of Labour continued to conduct investigations on complaints received regarding hazardous child labour even during the lockdown period of COVID-19 outbreak.

Providing an umbrella cover to all activities related to the labour force is the Tripartite Task Force chaired by our Minister of Labour. This Task Force acts as a point of convergence where employment security, wage reconsideration and all related issues are discussed between representatives of employers, employees and the Labour officials.

Excellencies, I believe that the COVID-19 situation globally has not reached an equilibrium where countries can start having long term plans. However, it has given ample opportunities for creating a new normal in the short term and consolidating it in the medium term. Sri Lanka views this as a stepping stone towards re-shaping her ‘world of work’ to suit the new normal in the post-COVID 19 period.

I sincerely hope and wish that this opportunity will serve as a means for all countries to re-align their ‘worlds of work’ accordingly and emerge safer and stronger after this global calamity.

Thank you.