Sri Lanka has one of the lowest rates of female participation in the workforce in the world where 5.6 million women of working age are not working, a World Bank study shows. The findings of the study were presented at a discussion organised by the World Bank and the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Night work barriers and proper child care services restrict women from SL’s labour force


Sri Lanka has one of the lowest rates of female participation in the workforce in the world where 5.6 million women of working age are not working, a World Bank study shows.

The findings of the study were presented at a discussion organised by the World Bank and the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo last week.

Asked by a member of the audience to comment on one of the recommendations of the study – removing night hour restrictions on women’s work after 10 pm-, Upali Wijayaweera, Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, said proposals have been made to remove these restrictions and the matter is being discussed with employers and trade unions. The unions are not in favour as they fear being forced to do extra work for less pay particularly in free trade zones.

The study said it was unusual that while Sri Lanka leads South Asia in high female education rates and low total fertility rates, FLFP (female labour force participation) remains low, close to the South Asian average FLFP rate of 40 per cent. The study noted that LFP rates for women are lower than for men in all sectors and consistently lowest in the urban sector – less than 40 per cent
The low FLFP slows economic growth. Women, it noted, want to work but unemployment is high for women ages 20-30, up to 17 per cent in the early 20s.While traditional gender norms dictate that women’s household roles remain the priority, the biggest effect here is for women with children. Having children under 5 years lowers FLFP, the study said saying even married women without children were affected.

The World Bank study noted that women do not have the right skills because more parental support is given for boys’ careers.
“At the O-level and above, the skilled job advantage shifts to men. University-educated women are 5 percentage points more likely to settle for low skill jobs than university educated men. More men than women surveyed receive vocational training and apprenticeships,” the report said.

The study urged the expansion, availability and social acceptance of child care services.

Globally it has been found that child care increases FLFP by 12-15 per cent, the study said, adding that private providers of child care services could be based at the workplace or in community.

Child care services’ models could be tailored for urban and rural settings which would also provide informal employment in rural areas.

The study also called for continued labour, safety and gender monitoring of workplaces to ensure decent work conditions; provision of safe and reliable transport facilities to aid women’s increased LFP.

It urged the expansion of mandated maternity leave to the private sector saying the European experience showed that paid parental leave of 3-9 months expanded FLFP by 3-4 per cent.

A separate March 2013 study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) titled “Women’s participation in Sri Lanka’s Labour Force – Trends, Drivers and Constraints” found important differences in the factors that “appear to enable and constrain married and single women, and female heads of households, from participating in the labour market.

The ILO study undertaken by researcher Ramani Gunatilaka among other issues identified barriers to labour participation for females. It said receipt of remittances from abroad constrained labour force participation of married women and female heads of households.
Among local labour market conditions, more people being employed in manufacturing and services relative to agriculture in the district was associated with reduced participation of married women and female heads of households.

The report said that while better education and higher socio economic status encourage married women to seek work, the legal framework governing work in the private sector imposes constrains that prevent women taking night work or part-time work in rapidly growing and socially-acceptable service sectors.

The study recommended the introduction of incentives to set up well monitored crèches for young children and day care centres for the elderly which can in turn provide more job options for women.

Removing legal restrictions on night work for women in IT/BPO sector : EFC

The Employer Federation of Ceylon (EFC) has written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa recommending urgent amendments to remove restrictions on night work for women, particularly in the context of the IT/BPO sector.

EFC Director General Ravi Peiris said much of the country’s GDP growth in the post-war period was driven by strong growth in industry and services sectors.

An emerging sector is the IT enabled BPO/KPO industry. This sector ranks among the top five export revenue earners for Sri Lanka and this year’s estimated revenue is US$605 million. “The prospects of this industry becoming a billion dollar export earner for our country is very high provided we create the necessary enabling framework for the expansion of the industry,” he said in the letter.

However Mr. Peiris noted that while several prospective investors have set eyes on the country, attracted by its talented pool of knowledge workers, their biggest concern is the regulatory framework in relation to employment in Sri Lanka. “The most irritant barrier for the IT enabled BPO/KPO industry to expand in our country is the prohibition of night work in respect of women in offices. This does not mean that the BPO/KPO industry as currently operating in Sri Lanka do not have women working in the night. Almost 50 per cent of those who work in this industry are women and they do work in the night with administrative relaxation granted by the Commissioner of Labour,” the letter said.
“However, having this restriction only in the law and not in practice is now preventing prospective investors from identifying Sri Lanka as a lucrative destination for this industry,” he said.

For the past four years the EFC says it has been promoting an amendment to the Shop and Office Employees Act to exempt women working in the IT enabled sectors of the BPO/KPO industry just as certain other women, for example, those involved in the business of a hotel or restaurant or in an office maintained by an airline at an airport or in a residential hotel in respect of specified categories of employees, are exempted.

“….we are disappointed to note that, notwithstanding several discussions on this matter at the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) there seems to be no progress whatsoever of making the necessary amendments to the law to assist this industry,” the letter said.

“At the last council meeting on May 6 the Executive Director of the Sri Lanka Association of Software and Services Companies (SLASSCOM) made a very insightful presentation on where this industry stands today and where it can go to, provided we have the necessary enabling environment for it to operate,” the letter said. The EFC appealed to the President to give this matter urgent attention.

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