NGOs:One of the biggest post-tsunami employers
By Dinushika Dissanayake
Last December’s tsunami cost the lives of many people and ruined people’s livelihoods but it also opened the doors to the NGO movement in Sri Lanka being one of the biggest employers in recent times – some say recruiting as much as 20,000 in the last few months.

Joining the 100s of non governmental organisations that already existed, scores of others have come on board the post-tsunami bandwagon. According to some estimates, more than 150 new charity organizations have begun work in Sri Lanka.

It has opened up enormous employment opportunities for Sri Lankans. Yu Hwa Li, National Director of Sri Lanka for World Vision, said last week that following the tsunami they had recruited a large number of new employees to deal with the increased need for relief workers.“We had 330 people before the tsunami to handle projects of about Rs. 15 million; we then had to recruit 450 new personnel to handle the Rs. 100 million projects that arose after the tsunami,” he said. Of these new personnel he said that eight to 10 percent are expatriates, this percentage leaving a significant gap for local employees to fill.

According to Li the labour market, both skilled and unskilled, has become extremely volatile due to the increased demand for skilled labour. “World Vision has not scaled up its salary scales in order to attract more labour, but the need to conduct a survey on salary scales in the industry was highlighted in the past few months,” he said. According to him, a project manager before the tsunami would have been paid approximately Rs. 35,000 to Rs. 40,000; the same role would now attract a salary of Rs. 45,000 to Rs. 50,000 at World Vision.

He explained that this increase in wages is due to increased allowances to employees who were inconvenienced by the relocation into affected areas. “It is not a permanent salary increase, and keeping in mind that World Vision pays less than other NGO’s, we are paying the same salaries as before,” he said. He was unable however to comment on the salary scales offered by other NGO’s who have entered Sri Lanka for the first time after the tsunami disaster.

Priyanthi Fernando, Executive Director of CEPA, however said that prices in the industry, both in the skilled and unskilled labour markets, have increased. “I know that at grass root level the price of labour has gone up in the tsunami stricken areas,” she said. According to her, CEPA which is a local NGO has lost three of their skilled personnel to higher paying jobs offered by other NGOs after the tsunami. Jeevan Thiagarajah, Executive Director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), confirmed this statement and added that the salary disparities after the tsunami range from Rs.30,000 to Rs.70,000 per job. According to him, CHA has lost two personnel to other NGOs within the past six months following the tsunami.

While the creation of new employment opportunities and higher paying jobs is a positive trend, concerns arise as to the long term economic and social impact of the short term contract based jobs offered by NGOs. “The downsizing process will eventually take place,” said Thiagarajah, adding that within the next five years the labour market will be flooded with employees who are currently working under one or two year contracts under various NGOs.

Yu Hwa Li of World Vision said that within the next two years they will be releasing 50 percent of the newly recruited staff. “Our one year contracts will be extended for a term of maximum two to three years,” he said.
CEPA’s Fernando, adding another dimension to the concerns raised, said that according to her sources, many persons in the affected areas are opting for higher paying but short term jobs with NGOs in order to obtain housing loans and rebuild their shattered lives. “Within the next two years once the contracts are terminated, they will have no income and will additionally be struggling to pay off loans,” she said. A further concern is how an employee who lived on a salary of Rs. 50,000 a month while working at an NGO will adjust to an income of Rs. 30,000 after two to three years, creating a potential source of social unrest and frustration among the work force.

Li of World Vision admitted that when recruiting new personnel they had not given thought to the economic and social impacts of such recruitments. “The solution is to recruit skilled persons who can receive valuable training as NGOs and who can move on to better careers at the end of their contracts,” he said.

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