Cabinet nod to implement worker welfare plan | Sunday Observer

Cabinet nod to implement worker welfare plan

17 May, 2020

The Cabinet has approved the 10-point plan proposed by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) and they are already being implemented, Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told Sunday Observer Business on Friday.

He said the government is in full agreement with the plan to support the employer and employee at a time when everyone is facing severe financial constraints and particularly when businesses are heavily cash-strapped.

“We have endorsed the proposals and will extend the fullest support to get all of them implemented soon to help businesses get back on track,” the Minister said.

 In a move that will provide some respite to cash strapped employers and employees who have taken a severe hit from the Covid-19 pandemic which has wreaked  havoc across all sectors of the global economy the Ministry of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations, the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, and  trade unions reached last week a tripartite agreement to prorate wages based on deployment of workers to sustain business operations during the current crisis.

The EFC notes the expectation of payment of wages during the curfew period and in the immediate months to come, despite employers not having sufficient income, will continue to be a severe drain on even the most resourceful of employers in the country.

It is in this backdrop that many have taken measures to cut costs, which include implementing salary and benefit deductions for higher income earners as well as looking at means of sustaining payrolls by resorting to innovative deployments. 

The Employers' Federation of Ceylon (EFC) Director General / CEO Kanishka Weerasinghe  

said all these efforts are aimed at sustaining enterprises and ensuring livelihoods of at least the majority of their employees. 

“While we are deeply appreciative of the Government’s efforts as well as indebted to the public servants, including members of the tri-services and police, who have worked tirelessly to curtail the spread of the pandemic unlike in many other countries, further intervention of the State machinery is inevitable as the vibrant private sector makes a steady recovery whilst taking precautions against the pandemic.

The EFC notes that  urgent financial assistance as well as employment related issues will need to be addressed with ‘out of the box’ solutions if we are to expect stability in and speedy recovery of labour markets. 

“It is a foregone conclusion that the ‘world of work’ is unlikely to emerge and function as it did previously, considering the strict adherence to new norms related to ‘social distancing’ as well as health and hygiene,” Weerasinghe said noting that open plan office spaces may have to be curtailed giving precedence to preventative measures taken to arrest the spread of the virus.

All this is going to add to the sum total of start-up costs for all employers, who are struggling to cope up with pressures of employing thousands of employees, many of whom may never be deployed for work given the limited capacities that employers will be allowed to work with in the short to mid term of the recovery period. The prorated wage scheme which is applicable to all sectors requires employers to rotate workers and provide opportunities for employees to resume work and supplement their livelihoods.

Employers  who are unable to pay workers in accordance with the scheme could make representations to the Commissioner General of Labour.

The EFC presented a 10-point proposal to provide fiscal space for employers to continue operations ensuring employment and worker welfare.

The proposals included providing fiscal and financial stimulus packages recognising the depletion of working capital, permitting employees to resume operations with maximum health protection but minimal red tape, promote and encourage enterprise-level arrangements to cover up lost working hours and operate at higher efficiency levels, promote new work methods and create jobs/work, payment of wages and other terms and conditions, encourage employers to retain employees in service by offering half a month’s work, allow employers to temporarily lay off workers by paying a percentage of wage or by paying an allowance that does not attract EPF/ETF, revisit the classification made in relation to essential services, set up job banks and placement centres and promote skill recognition and certification, including prior learning. However, the situation of workers across the formal and informal sectors of the economy was appalling due to the absence of a proper mechanism to ensure uninterrupted work that will provide a stable income for families of workers.

In the plantation sector, women engage permanently in tea and rubber plantations while others work in the private sector outside plantations. Work in the sector came to a halt with  plantation companies and the private sector stopping formal work. Even though work has  resumed to a certain extent in the plantations sector, employees are deprived of a daily wage, overtime, product and attendance incentives, and other allowances resulting in a meager income for many who live a hand to mouth existence. While this is the case for a certain group, another in the private sector had to face severe pay cuts and then forgo the salary last month. 

Union representatives said certain employers who clamour for help from the authorities undermine the safety and rights of employees who were exposed to the deadly virus having made the staff to report to work when the country is still battling the killer disease and not completely out of the woods.