Achievements to crow over
Chickens seen at the giant Bairaha farm complex in Pasyala near Gampaha.
The company, which owns and processes one of the most technologically advanced
poultry and processed meat facilities in South Asia, was awarded two global
quality standard certificates. Bairaha Farms Ltd said it has received the
ISO 9002 and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) certificates.
Mind your Business
There was talk of privatising a giant in the insurance sector sometime
ago, but the plans were shelved in the face of some stout opposition from
Now the idea has resurfaced and a major global player seems to be really
keen to push the deal through. And, needless to say, like all good businessmen,
they have approached the men and women who matter from both camps, blue
and green but a final decision would of course have to await the outcome
of the polls.
Boot for phone booths?
Their trade may have begun with a bang but now the buzz has dimmed in the
At least one payphone operator is finding it extremely hard to meet
overheads, what with rising costs and the rapidly expanding cellular phone
industry obviating the need for phone booths. So, though a complete sell
out is unlikely, there may soon be a merger with a rival with a larger
Pirated computer software is available almost anywhere and at rock-bottom
But dealers should beware: one large software manufacturer is not taking
kindly to profiteering from the proliferating CDs and intends to file legal
And, yes, little Lanka is among a select group of countries in the region
where such action will be initiated as a 'legal experiment'.
Unprecedented number of layoffs
"Appoint parliamentary select committee on labour reforms"
Sri Lanka's labour authorities have been flooded with an "unprecedented"
number of applications, seeking permission to lay off staff, in the past
three months from private sector firms struggling against an economic downturn.
"There has been an unprecedented number of applications seeking closures
or to lay off workers," said Gamini Weerakoon, a retired labour commissioner,
quoting officials from the Labour Commissioner's office. "In the last three
months, there have been 35 such applications."
He was speaking at a Colombo workshop last week, which looked at the
crisis facing companies and labour regulations in relation to closures
and laying-off staff.
But Mahinda Madihahewa, Commissioner-General of Labour, told The Sunday
Times Business that most of the applications received in recent months
related to temporarily discontinuing of staff for three to six months.
"These are all companies in the apparel and tourism sectors (affected
by the July incidents at the airport and the September 11 bombing attacks
in the US)," he said adding that there may be many other cases – not reported
to the department – of staff being asked to stay at home on paid leave.
If companies, in agreement with employees, want to offer paid leave to
staff, they need not inform the labour commissioner."
Neville Joseph, a veteran labour lawyer, urged the setting up of a parliamentary
select committee to formulate labour laws and reforms after considering
the views of all stakeholders. "Invite trade unions, employers, employees,
the public and all others to make representations and once and for all
formulate a mode of labour legislation by consensus instead of resorting
to peace-meal amendments."
The workshop came on the back of growing reports of companies seeking
closures, cutting staff or curtailing production. Last week small and medium-scale
garment manufacturers warned of falling orders and the possible closure
of at least 50 factories in the next few weeks.
Newspapers are filled with advertisements taken out by commercial banks
seeking parate executions or seizing the property of private companies
for failure to settle loans as Sri Lanka goes through one of the worst
economic periods in recent times. Private sector analysts have put this
year's growth rate at below one percent compared to 6 percent in 2000.
Weerakoon said under the lucrative Coca Cola and SriLankan Airlines
compensation packages – cited by trade unions as industrial standards -
the compensation paid is beyond the reach of ordinary companies. "These
are five-star compensation packages in the industry."
Under the SriLankan Airlines package, workers laid off were entitled
to a minimum compensation of Rs. 300,000 and a maximum of Rs. 3 million.
The Coca Cola retrenchment compensation package started off with 18 months
salary for two to three years service to a maximum of 60 months salary
for a service period of more than nine years.
"This has put the stakes up and unions often cite these packages when
negotiating compensation," he said.
The JVP-led Inter Company Union, which has swarmed over the private
sector and ousted the Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU) as the top private
sector union, came in for criticism and was said to be losing support.
Joseph said the JVP learnt a bitter lesson after the company served
vacation notices in the cases of striking staff at the Daintee and Wonderlight
factories last year under emergency regulations. None of the sacked staff
was re-employed. "There were strikers who pleaded with us to take them
back and blamed the union for their plight," he said adding that the same
situation arose at the Ocean Lanka factory at Biyagama.
Ocean Lanka, a fabric manufacturer, had a major labour dispute where
a section of the staff refused to leave the premises for six days until
the police intervened.
Company officials say the firm has stopped a planned US $10 million
investment to expand the factory and is looking at other options – whether
it should re-locate the factory in Africa where there are US quota benefits
and less labour problems.
SriLankaFirst calls for vote on peace
SriLankaFirst, a group of industrial associations and business chambers
promoting peace, has launched the second phase of its campaign – urging
people to vote for political parties and candidates who are peaceful and
"We are asking voters (at the December 5 election) to vote for political
parties and candidates who are sincere towards peace," said Neela Marikkar,
a spokesperson for the powerful grouping, as advertisements promoting this
message appeared in Sunday's newspapers.
"We need to bring the peace issue back on track as this matter has been
sidetracked at the elections," she said. "Peace is the biggest problem
this country is facing, unfortunately this is not the main issue at the
SriLankaFirst came into focus on September 19 with a "Hold hands for
peace" campaign which, according to organisers, drew close to a million
people across the island including Jaffna. Since then the group, which
has drawn some flak from nationalist groups like the Sihala Urumaya, has
been meeting political parties. Some parties have expressed an interest
in working with SriLankaFirst in finding solutions to the political crisis
and the war. "What we are focusing on in these advertisements is to remind
politicians that they should put the country and people first in their
campaigns," Marikkar noted.
Sri Lankan consumers will get a taste of the "battle of the razors" when
a new international product hits the market this week competing against
the likes of BiC and Gillette.
"Super Max", a blade marketed in 90 countries by Indian-based Vidyut
Metallics, is being introduced as a cheaper product with more features
than its competitors, according to trade sources. The sources said the
new product appears to have some advantages over the competition like the
world's first triple-blade disposable razor. This product is an exclusive
creation of Vidyut Mettalics and was introduced to the world in the US
one year ago.
BiC is the market leader in Sri Lanka but sources at J. L. Morrison
& Sons Ltd, the local distributor of Super Max, said they are confident
of garnering a 30 percent market share. "One out of five men who use razors,
uses a Super Max," one source said.
The company is planning to market its entire range of razors in the
single and double edged segments along with shaving foam that it also produces,
the source said.
Easy phone access for the disabled
By Akhry Ameer
Sri Lanka's Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) is stepping up efforts
to improve telecommunication facilities for the disabled.
Under a programme of the Consumer Dispute Resolutions Committee, headed
by Ms. P. R. Amarasiri, Director – Legal of the TRC, one of the main tasks
is to provide relief for those who are unable to use telecommunication
facilities in the usual way as any other individual due to some form of
Although there are specific provisions in the existing legislature and
conditions in licences granted to telecom operators to recognise and safeguard
the rights of persons with disabilities, these conditions are not strictly
"There is a significant population who are unable to perform day-to-day
activities. In the process their impairment restricts the ability to use
a basic telephone. The disabled population is rapidly increasing due to
war, road accidents and birth defects," she said, stressing the need to
focus on easy telecom access for this segment of society.
Internationally telecom facilities are made accessible to people with
special needs by way of special equipment such as special booths, voice
amplifiers, enlarged dial pads, braille, bills in braille, etc. As these
involve a large cost-factor the TRC has begun with small improvements and
benefits like providing access to a basic telephone. In this regard, the
commission has started visiting locations where collective groups of people
with special needs live.
One such site is the Ranaviru Gama, where a large community of disabled
servicemen and their families live. Currently the residents have to go
outside the village to make a telephone call. "Imagine the kind of difficulty
and expenses a serviceman on a wheelchair has to go through to make a telephone
call? They have to take a three-wheeler. The soldier has to get into it
and load his wheelchair. Finally he ends up with an expense of around Rs.
150 to make the call," explained Amarasiri. In this instance the TRC has
spoken to the necessary service providers such as SL Telecom to install
a phone at the community centre in this area and also to set up payphones
at convenient locations.
"Payphones have been built all over the island for public convenience.
There is no preference for people with special needs. After all they are
also like us," she said. These special phone booths at strategic locations
need to be designed to accommodate wheelchair manoeuvrability, the instrument
to be located at a reachable height with a longer wire and the booth marked
with the international symbol. Asked whether these should be compulsorily
implemented by licensed operators, she said that the TRC intends to have
a conference with the operators to address these issues. On the issue of
funding she said that the costs must be undertaken by operators as it is
a licensed condition, but the TRC will partially fund some areas such as
the work at the Ranaviru Gama.
The TRC has looked at countries like Australia, Britain and the US as
examples of the facilities made available to the disabled. However, Amarasiri
pointed out that what was most important right now is the basic telephone
access, which the disabled are deprived of. Thereafter the TRC hopes to
develop areas such as Internet access and also not restrict themselves
to organisations but individuals as well. "Operators must not only think
of the cost-factor but must think of the goodwill. For normal people technology
makes life easier, but for these people technology makes life possible,"
Wide-ranging copyright laws held up in parliament
The implementation of proposed wide-ranging laws relating to intellectual
property rights in Sri Lanka have been delayed due to the prorogation of
parliament, official sources said.
They said the Code of Intellectual Property Act (Amendments) Bill was
presented to parliament in May this year but its passage through the House
has been delayed due to the prorogation.
"The bill takes care of many issues that have been raised by worried
US authorities relating to copyright of sound recordings, CD's and cassettes,"
an official, who declined to be identified, said.
He was reacting to comments made by US Ambassador Ashley Wills who called
for stronger laws and enforcement of laws against illegal manufacture and
sale of recorded music, computer software, video tapes and other intellectual
In remarks made at the opening of an enforcement training session for
Sri Lankan officials on Thursday, Wills noted that Sri Lanka needed to
approve strong Intellectual Property Rights legislation quickly, as required
by its obligations to the WTO, saying, "the delay in passing this legislation
is hurting Sri Lanka's economy."
But official sources, while acknowledging that the current law was inadequate
to tackle this problem, noted that the issue was not as bad as stated.
"Sri Lankan laws prevent duplication not reproduction. Anyway pirated material
come from abroad like Singapore, Hong Kong or Thailand. US authorities
should squeeze these sources before taking us on," the source said.
Wills said the flood of illegal CDs and tapes has also crippled honest
recording companies here and deprived many local musicians of their livelihood.
"Intellectual piracy harms legitimate business and industry throughout
the world, especially in Sri Lanka, where several potentially successful
software companies have been unable to establish markets because of the
availability of cheap, illegally produced products in the country," Wills
said adding that some international software companies have also looked
at investment opportunities in Sri Lanka but after looking at the sea of
illegal copies made here, have taken their investments elsewhere.
"I think there are much more serious issues taken into consideration
by foreign investors in investing here like the uncertain political climate
for instance," the source said.
He said the proposed new laws deal comprehensively with patents, trade
marks, unfair practices and copyright and has stronger provisions to deal
with performers, producers of sound and the rights of broadcasters.
It also has provision to protect undisclosed information, trade secrets
and geographical locations like the use of the name "Ceylon Tea".
Jobs in Ireland for Lankans
A Sri Lankan employment agency has broken through the normally restrictive
employment barriers in the west, sending - what is seen as – the first
group of skilled personnel to Ireland.
"As far as we are aware, this is the first time Sri Lankans have secured
employment in Ireland through a licensed employment agency," noted Hemantha
Sapumohotti, managing director of Emerald Isle Manpower and Travel Services.
The company has found jobs initially for 50 Sri Lankans to work as chefs,
cooks, restaurant managers or receptionists in hotels and restaurants in
Ireland through a federation there representing hotels and restaurants.
Six of the successful applicants are already in Ireland while four more
are leaving next week. The company is waiting for the work permits of another
40 Sri Lankans. "The permits take some time. Once we get these the next
batch would be sent," said Sapumohotti, adding that salaries were on par
with western standards.
The Middle East and Asia have been the traditional hunting grounds for
Sri Lankans to find jobs through recruitment agencies while professionals
have, individually, succeeded in securing jobs in the west. The breakthrough
by a Sri Lankan recruitment firm to find jobs in the west would boost the
country's potential as a source of labour for overseas markets.
Emerald Isle said it worked hard - for eight months - to secure this
contract, noting that though the work permits are for one year, the work
contracts are open.
"This means if the employer is satisfied with the Sri Lankan employee,
he could extend the contract," Sapumohotti said, adding that Ireland has
opened employment opportunities to other nationalities too.
Meanwhile, the current election campaign sees a candidate contesting
on the basis of raising the foreign employment profile and looking after
the needs of migrant workers.
Suraj Dandeniya, president of the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment
Agencies of Sri Lanka and a United National Party candidate for the Colombo
district, says a new UNP government has plans to create job opportunities
abroad for 150,000 more Sri Lankans.
"We will create more job prospects and improve the conditions of migrant
workers," he said.
According to these plans, graduates would be recruited, trained to speak
in Arabic and posted as labour counselling officers to Sri Lankan missions
in the Middle East.
Embassies would be strengthened with lawyers to look after complaints
of harassment and take sponsors to court in proven cases. Foreign missions
would also be asked to routinely check on basic facilities available for
Dandeniya said there were plans to send at least 100,000 more Sri Lankans
to Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Qatar and another 40,000 to South Korea.