Life will never be the same for anyone after the dust settles on the COVID-19 pandemic. It will never be the same too for the trio who had gathered outside the gate for their regular Thursday morning ‘chat’. It was all about haircuts, which are not an essential service; so the barber salons are closed. [...]

Business Times

World of work


Life will never be the same for anyone after the dust settles on the COVID-19 pandemic. It will never be the same too for the trio who had gathered outside the gate for their regular Thursday morning ‘chat’. It was all about haircuts, which are not an essential service; so the barber salons are closed.

“Mage putha game inna nendagen konde kappa gaththa (My son got his hair cut by his aunt in the village),” laughed Kussi Amma Sera, adding; “Eth eya konde kapapu vidiha gena sathutu-ne (He was not happy at the way it was cut).” Her son had posted a picture of his haircut on his phone and sent it to his mother.

“Ei apita barber salun arinna beri? Minisunge koṇḍe kapaganna avashya-yaine (Why can’t they open barber salons? People need to cut their hair, which is important),” noted Serapina.

“Eka aththa thamai. Eth aendiri nithiya thiyanakota kohomada salun walata yanne? (Yes, but how can people go to the salons if there are curfews?),” asked Mabel Rasthiyadu.

The conversation about haircuts sounded interesting since for the trio, it was a kind of ‘essential service’ as people, particularly males, needed a haircut at least once a month. When the curfews are lifted island-wide, many males will make a beeline to their barber … most probably joining a long line outside!

Were haircuts going to be my topic today? Thankfully, the phone rang and it was ‘Dosai’ Danny, my verti-clad friend from Trincomalee. “I say … how are you?” he asked. “Hi Dosai, it has been a long time,” I said, welcoming his call.

“I was planning to talk to you about how life is swiftly changing due to the coronavirus crisis. We have had to forego many things that we normally accept as essential,” he said. “Yes everyone – whether rich or poor – is in the same boat because the curfew restricts the movement of everyone,” I replied.

We then got into a deep conversation about how life and the world of work will change in the future. Here are some of the points that emerged in our discussion:

  •  With schools being closed, the Education Department has introduced a facility where textbooks for Grades 1 to 13, can be downloaded in all three languages from the Internet. Schooling will change forever.
  •  Banks are providing cash at your doorstep, being collected on your behalf by PickMe from ATMs and delivered to homes.
  •  Webinars (online fora) and online discussions are likely to continue in future, reducing the number of public gatherings.
  •  In companies, group meetings of senior management staff who are working from different locations may also be online, instead of gathering in Colombo or wherever the head office is.
  •  The demand for online chat services and group conversations would trigger a new generation of online vendors.
  •  In the near term, the question arises as to whether companies will want staff this year to forego their annual leave entitlements (to make up for lost time particularly in production and manufacturing units) now that everyone has been at home for more than a month. Workers are entitled to 14 days annual leave and seven days casual leave. Will that be taken away though it may not be possible as they are regulated holidays? Will companies get consent from workers to forego these holidays?
  •  With more and more people using credit or debit cards for transactions, will there be a gradual shift to card transactions from cash?
  •  People are compelled to cut their hair at home with curfews continuing.
  •  More and more people may continue to work from home, particularly in non-manufacturing and production units or balance their workday, working both at home and office.
  •  Even though curfews would be lifted island-wide including Colombo, social and physical distancing measures are likely to continue for another six months until the pandemic is completely eradicated and a vaccine enters the fray. This means that the usual meetings of associates and/or friends or family at a restaurant, cafe or hotel are unlikely in the short term.
  •  Face-masks may have to be worn for many more months from now.
  •  There will be more online sales from retail stores and others.
  •  More goods and essential food will be purchased from vendors coming down the roads.
  •  Medical consultants, which in many cases are online these days, might continue in the future and reduce the number going to hospitals.
  •  Once the country is declared free for tourists, visitors will be wearing masks and armed with health certificates.

Meanwhile during an online discussion this week on social protection measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the Asian region in which ILO experts from the region took part, it was stated that the world of work in the short term would be badly affected.

Sara Elder, Head of the Regional Economic and Social Analysis Unit of the ILO Regional Office for Asia, said that consumption has dropped and consumer buying has vanished which was making it harder on production and manufacturing units.

“Currently, there is no demand for goods,” she said, adding that many factories are asking people to go on unpaid leave, enforcing pay-cuts and stopping overtime work (in the private sector many employees depend on overtime as their basic salary is low, very much like hotel workers who depend on the service charge). Millions of people in Asia and the Pacific consider their jobs at stake because of the crisis. Consumers don’t want to spend their money; so it’s trouble for malls and shops selling non-essentials. The crisis will cause a severe decline in working hours and employment opportunities. Fewer working hours mean less pay, she added.

Across Asia, the pandemic has particularly hit apparel manufacturing and tourism and hospitality and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The ILO said that in Sri Lanka, in addition to domestic difficulties of enterprises, threats to job security, loss of income of daily-waged labourers, there is the imminent return of large numbers of low-skilled, low paid migrant workers, adding to the number out of work and out of income. “The effects of the pandemic have exposed the lack of social protection for informal economy workers,” the ILO has said.

It was time to wind up my column today focusing on life in the future and the world of work. Bringing in a cup of coffee (which I had requested instead of tea), Kussi Amma Sera also agrees that life will change, sometimes forever, for most people. “Apita gedera konde kapanna weyi (We may have to cut our hair at home),” she laughs.

Yes, many things will change this year. The Central Bank has said that Sri Lanka’s economy will ‘decelerate’ this year, while international lending agencies project it would contract to a negative growth scenario.


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