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Country Report – Sri Lanka Country Profile Sri Lanka is one of the SAARC countries with a land area of 65,610 sq km and with a population of 19.7 million people which is multi ethnic, multi religious, multi cultural, and pluralist aspect. Socio Economic Situation of Sri Lanka Among the south Asian countries Sri Lanka’s status is unique with regard to socio economic indicators. Sri Lanka has recently emerged as a middle income country and has achieved a growth rate of 5% which increased to 7.5% in 2006. With regard to social indicators such as universal primary school enrolment, literacy rates and gender equality in primary and secondary education, Sri Lanka is well ahead in meeting the millennium Development Goals. In education primary school enrollment is almost 100% and the enrollment rate in secondary schools is about 75 % for both boys and girls. This has contributed for high literacy rate of 92.1 % (89.6% female, 94.7% male). In the field of health the life expectancy is 72.5 years (75.8% female, 69.8 male %) and a low fertility rate of 2 births per women. Infant mortality (17 per 1000 live births) and maternal mortality (92 per 100,000 live births) are lower than in other countries in the region and so is the number of HIV/AIDS cases. The status of women is far better than that in other developing countries. There is no significant gender inequality either in access to education and health services or in economic welfare. Though Sri Lanka has progressively developed to the status of middle income level country still there remains regional disparity and pockets where poverty level is high. Plantation regions where tea and rubber are cultivated are considered a poverty driven area. Between 1990 – 91 and 2002 poverty in the estate sector increased by 50%, and in 2002 the incidence of income poverty in the estate sector of 7 percent points higher than the national average (30% versus 23%).This sector is not faring well in other indicators as well, such as health, education and nutrition, which all have values below the national averages. Labor and Employment Situation Sri Lanka liberalized its economy in 1977 and despite the twenty years ethnic conflict the economy has remained in good state. The rate of unemployment has progressively declined from 16 % in 1990 to 8.5% in 2005. The total labour force is 8.1 million and the labour force participation rate is 48.5%. The labour force has a comparatively high level of service sector (54%) Industry (26%) and agriculture accounts for 20 %.The labor force grew at an annual average rate of 2.9% from 1994 to 2003 in line with working age population. However the participation of labor force remained constant over this time. The male participation rate was more than twice that of women. Unemployment rates have declined by almost half in recent years but remain very high among women and youth. Informal economy sector Informal employment could be defined as economic activities that take place beyond the organized legal purview of the state. Under this broad conceptional framework the informal employment sector in Sri Lanka covers self employed workers, unpaid family workers and daily paid private sector employees which are not subject to national labour legislations, income taxation, social protection or entitlement to certain employment benefits such as severance pay, paid annual leave etc. The labor force is engaged mostly in service sector, manufacturing sector and agricultural sector. With liberalization of the economy in Sri Lanka in 1977 many private sector entrepreneurs ventured in various sectors of economy and this led to increase the informal economy workers. This trend opened avenues for employment in transport sector, export and import sector and other service sectors as well such as security jobs, outsourcing of manufacturing sector etc. Hence a considerable number of workers entered the informal sector economy. The formal sector employees are covered with basic protection of core labor standards. It should be noted that Sri Lanka has ratified eight ILO conventions on core labor standards including the right to collective bargaining and freedom of associations. Tripartite mechanisms for social dialogue have been in place for a long time and trade unions, employers and the government interact collectively to resolve critical issues in industrial relations. In addition Sri Lanka provides the most extensive social security coverage in South Asia such as pensions, disability, survivor and health. There is also criticism on the excessive job protection for formal sector workers which had led to lower productivity and exclusion of vulnerable workers in the informal sector. Though there are social security programs in the informal sectors these programmes do not cover the entire informal sector workers. There are large gaps in the coverage. Due to the low level educational level the informal sector workers do not opt to obtain the benefits derived from such programmes. Informal workers covered by Ceylon Workers Congress The informal sector workers come under the purview of Ceylon Workers Congress in Sri Lanka are mostly agricultural workers in small Tea Holdings and who are engaged in domestic work as well in vegetable cultivations in the plantation area. Around 15% workers from the Tea and Rubber plantations are in the informal sector. The number of workers in the informal sector is expected to increase in the plantation sector due to the stigma, attached to the plantation formal sector though there these workers are covered by the Industrial Laws of the country. Plantation Community Around 250,000 families representing a population of 1 million people still live on the estates in the central parts of Sri Lanka. The plantation community representing 5% of the total population has the highest percentage of poverty in Sri Lanka. This sector has also has the lowest level indicators in education, health nutrition than the national averages. The plantation community comprises worker and non worker families with a diversified occupational structure. This community has been living in the plantations over 150 years mostly depending on the plantation management which has fair influence in the working and living conditions of this community. This has led to a dependence culture and low esteem among this community. Being an Estate laborer carries a stigma, which limits employment and other opportunities outside the plantations. Health indicators are well below the national averages with health services being provided mainly by the plantation management. It is to be noted that the state health services are now being introduced to the estate sector. Though education comes under the purview of the state the quality of education is still lagging behind that of the rest of the country. Despite widespread labor shortage affecting the plantation sector, youth unemployment is posing a serious problem. Though the women in the plantation sector are more active in the economic front compared to other sectors their participation in social and political spheres is low and gender in equity is widespread. The children in the plantation sector becomes main source of cheap labour. The elders once they become unproductive are left out and marginalized. 80 % of this community are workers and 70 % of these workers are members of the Ceylon Workers Congress which had championed the causes of the community for the last 60 years. Ceylon Workers Congress Ceylon workers Congress has a long history of collective bargaining with employers federation of Sri Lanka and collective agreements in respect of wages, hours of work, working conditions, plucking norms, medical benefits, housing, child development Centers and equal wages for women workers. This collective agreement is renewed every two years with amendments. Challenges in the informal sector workers under the purview of the Union The major difficulty faced by the union in addressing the issues of the informal sector workers is obtaining information of entrepreneurs and employees in small enterprises and domestic workers outside the plantation area. Though these informal sector workers are from the plantation sector the working places are mostly in and around Colombo. It is difficult to collect information on these workers unless they approach the unions.
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