National employment sourcing centre on the verge of collapse
JobsNet - the national employment sourcing and delivery system is on the verge of collapse as the authorities have failed to implement the privatisation process which should be carried out after the completion of three years of the project. The privatisation of this project is basically at a standstill with the proposed new company yet to be incorporated. A stakeholder meeting was held on April 4 but without a income.
JobsNet provided benefits for job seekers, local and foreign employers and self-employment seekers by providing referrals for jobs and training, information, advice and career guidance. It is an on-line referral system with a web interface at www.jobsnet.lk. The project is a public - private sector partnership. As a national project the Ministry of Labour Relations and Foreign Employment representing the public sector joined hands with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), harnessing the support and active participation of the private sector in this unique partnership.
The CCC had managed JobsNet when the project was funded by NORAD and SIDA for its operations and Human Resource Development for a period of three years with effect from 2004 while the International Labour Organization provided technical support. Sources involved with the project said the JobsNet vision was to effectively facilitate the process of making Sri Lanka a provider of globally employable and competitive human capital, with the aim of enhancing and sustaining the qualitative standard of living of all Sri Lankans. However this vision will not become a reality as the ILO Project Advisor already left the country on April 25 and ILO is no more involved.
The sources said there were no proper plans for a proper transition. On completion of the funding period, the project was to be converted to a legal entity with public and private sector participation to take over operations from February 1, 2007.
But nothing has happened so far. Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Labour Relations and Manpower D.L Kumaradasa told The Sunday Times FT that JobsNet will be floated as a guaranteed company under the new Companies Act and the present employees will be given an opportunity to continue working if they desire to do so. Otherwise they will have to leave the project.
He disclosed that the Cabinet has given its approval to establish a tripartite partnership for JobsNet to provide employment services to local employers, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, foreign employment agencies and job seekers. An a meeting, the ministry had with JobsNet staff on April 24 it was clearly indicated the same salaries and perks won’t be available to staff. Employees say that as per the Companies Act this is a decision to be taken by the board but not some one else.
As this statement was made in front of ILO representatives , the staff was of the view that they are very insecure between two workers’ rights giants – ILO and the Ministry of Labour relations and Manpower. Most of the employees said that they are leaving the organisation.
At present the JobsNet management has closed down two key departments in the head office and within two weeks, the sources said they may have to close down few centres When the staff met the Director ILO and discussed their present problems, the ILO director has said that employees at JobsNet didn’t appear to have any rights (in relation to their employment contracts).
This totally contradicts the project document and the agreement JobsNet has signed with the donor. According to the cabinet paper current assets in banks and other current assets worth Rs. 2,705,982 are also available and total current liabilities as of 31-12-2006 are about Rs.152,112,230.
The cabinet paper indicates that all these liabilities have been settled and the terminal benefits of the staff recruited under the project have been granted. Employees however said that they were not granted any terminal benefits or at least a patient hearing of their plight by the Labour Ministry or the ILO.
JobsNet was operating on a grant from SIDA over the last 3 years.
It also generated its own income through direct activities. With the additional funds received for the Accelerated Employment Services Programme through SIDA a sum amounting to US$3.0 million was available.
For operational purposes of the Jobset head office and 19 centres, including the additional work undertaken on the programme monies utilized from donor funding is approximately US$850,000.
No one knows what happened to the balance US$2.15 million, the sources said. Maintaining the ILO project office over a period of 2 ½ years has cost approximately US$550,000 while the majority of the work done was by JobsNet staff. According to the project document international expertise in the form of a project advisor was to be only for one year. However it has continued for 2 ½ years. ILO has charged over US$400,000 as their charges for technical expertise.
There was no transparency in accounting and there were no records on balances of funds. Meanwhile utilizing the project funds ILO and the Ministry organized an international workshop at Kandalama Hotel with foreign participation.
Over 75 participants attended the workshop but there were only four from JobsNet while over five foreign experts participated at this 1 ½ day affair where all expenses were paid, the sources said. For the local participants too all expenses were paid. “It was basically an exercise to boost the ego of ILO and the Ministry at an expense of almost Rs.12 million, used from project funds,” one source said, adding that this amount was sufficient for JobsNet operations for five months and at a crucial juncture, it was wasted on a conference.
Many of the senior and mid level managers have left the project and there are just 10 centre managers whereas the requirement is 19. The public sector officers released to the project do not know where they stand with privatization. The number of employees has dropped from 112 to 51 at percent. The ILO and the Labour Ministry has instructed the management of JobsNet to recruit staff on six month contracts. The management says it is not possible to get people on such short contracts. Due to the uncertainty created among staff, the performance over the last 6 months is in total contrast to the positive trends the project was maintaining from its inception.
The management complains that the funds to meet salaries and other commitments are not available as time and again ILO has failed to transfer funds.
Due to non availability of funds the management has scaled down its operations. A project that won the admiration of all and was of national importance is now in the balance.
JobsNet has more than 185,000 jobseekers registered and about 300 companies are paying members. All different categories of jobseekers are represented, but there is an important gap between the characteristics of the jobseekers and the requirements of the employers. More than 60,000 vacancies have been served. An estimation of 25,000 jobseekers found a job with the support of Jobs Net.
The sources said employees of JobsNet did not have any legal status for four years.
Though this has been pointed out time and time again to ILO and the Labour Ministry nothing has been done by those responsible for setting standards and worker rights. Employees say they are totally unaware about their future in the light of impending changes. Employees questioned as to where all these labour conventions including work dignity that the ILO promotes takes place when it happens to be an ILO project?
Migrant worker monies protected
The Cabinet recently turned down a request from the Minister of Labour Athauda Seneviratne to obtain a sum of Rs 5 million as a loan / grant from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment as a start up capital to establish the JobsNet guaranteed company.
Official sources said the cabinet was of the view that this proposal need not be pursued with the reallocation of functions of ministries. The cabinet request was made just after Keheliya Rambukwella was appointed Foreign Employment Minister.
The Sunday Times FT learns that under the JobsNet extension program known as the Accelerated Employment Services Programme (AES) there have been some funds made available to the ministry for the implementation of certain components of the said programme. On the other hand the Foreign Employment Bureau is being maintained with fees levied from the Sri Lankan migrant workers.