Sri Lanka is a country which has a very high unemployment rate. The overall unemployment is 45% whereas female unemployment rate is 65%.
“Sri Lanka needs to get more people to participate in labour market. We have to focus to women and people with disabilities who have right to engage in the labour force but have been marginalized. They must be given more opportunity for education and vocational training to engage in the labour market,” said Dr. Nisha Arunatilake who authored the Labour Market Characteristics, a thematic report based on Census of Population and Housing 2012. She expressed these views participating in the Generation to Generation Dialogue organized by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) held on 9th December 2016 in Colombo.
“Among Sri Lankans, 87 per 1000 have some kind of disability. Sri Lanka has recognized their right to participate in the labour force but their actual participation rates are very low,” she said.
Ashani Basnayake who leads the Environment and Climate Change research portfolio at Verité Research pointed out that highly educated women with tertiary level qualifications also do not enter the labour force. “Sometimes they do not have the necessary skills even though they are qualified,” she pointed out.
Today, economic development is driven by technology. Therefore, the science and technology employees are very important. We need more professional in this sector. IT education is very important.
Nalaka Umagiliya, Vice President of John Keells Holdings PLC described the situation in the IT industry. “In terms of technology, the skills needed also change fast. How adaptive the tertiary education systems are is also important. For example, five years ago, when we developed a website, we were not much worried about user interface and user experience aspects. But now the psychological elements are evaluated in web designing. Fresh graduates lack these skills.”
Nisha Arunatilake pointed out that only 13% of Sri Lankan population had tertiary level education. “The postgraduate qualified persons are less than 1% and you can’t even see them in a graph. This is the most innovative and professional section of the labour force. This is an area Sri Lanka is not doing well. We have to address it to increase the productivity of labour.
“The disparities related to female labour force participation is basically among the section of lower level of education. Females who have many family responsibilities are not attracted to the jobs which are not considered good because of longer working hours and less security.”
Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan who hails from Point Pedro is a Development Economist by profession and he is the Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development, Point Pedro, Northern Province, Sri Lanka, which was established in 2004. He sees cultural issues behind the trends in the labour force.
“Sometimes women do not enter labour force because the husband’s income is sufficient for family. Then it is a class issue. Second is a cultural issue and Sri Lankan women like the women in many other Asian countries prefer to give prominence to childcare. The lack of childcare facilities in society prevents women entering the labour force.”
Dr. Muttukrishna emphasized that personal laws like Muslim marriage law and Thesawalamai had severe restrictions on property ownership which prevented women from entrepreneur activities.
Sri Lanka government has focused to these issues and in addition to the moves to develop the child and elderly care facilities, the government recently proposed measures like part time work and flexible working hours. The panelists asked for more attention of the policymakers to address the issues in the labour force of Sri Lanka.