Losing jobs | Print Edition


When a Sri Lankan who was visiting Dubai on holiday recently entered a shop, another person with two others approached him and engaged the visitor in conversation. Here’s how it went:

Stranger: Are you from Sri Lanka?

Visiting Sri Lanka: yes, why?

Stranger: We are from Sri Lanka too. Do you work here?

Visiting Sri Lanka: No, I’m on vacation?

Stranger: Ah! I was wondering if you could get us a job. We were in Dubai looking for a job without success.

Visiting Sri Lanka: So you came to Dubai without a permanent job?

Stranger: Yes, because of the crisis in Sri Lanka. We’ve been struggling for the past few weeks because we’ve run out of money.

According to some official estimates, almost a million people have left the country either with secure jobs or in search of work. The passport office is crowded every day with young people applying for a new passport or renewing an existing one.

Quite a few people visit Dubai (like the example above) on a tourist visa and continue to try to find work. There are numerous inquiries on the internet from Sri Lankans who have gone to Dubai, are stranded and are asking for a contact to get a job. Recently, a Sri Lankan resident there posted a message that his company is looking for workers from Sri Lanka and could help those who are already looking for work in West Asia.

Many of the Sri Lankans in Dubai (where there is no need to follow cumbersome visa procedures as you will be given one on arrival) are on visit visas and are looking for jobs and are trying to contact another Sri Lankan friend or acquaintance and to ask for jobs.

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Halfway through today’s column, I was briefly distracted by the arrival of Aldoris’ tuk-tuk. The trio had gathered at the gate to greet Aldoris.

“Oya kohomada, Aldoris (How are you, Aldoris)” she asked Kiss Amma Sera.HondaiMiss (well, miss)” he said while he ‘maalu paans’ to his customers. “Mae piti mila ekka kohomada kalamanakaranaya kara ganne (How are you coping with the high cost of flour)?” he asked Mabel Rasthiyado. “Amarui, eth ithin kalamanakaranaya karaganna avashshiayai ne. Mae davas wala rassawal-uth nae-ne. Godak tharuna kattiyata harima amarui (It’s difficult, but I have to make it. There are no more jobs these days and the young unemployed are having a hard time),” he replied.

“Godak kattiyage rassawal nethi wela thiyenawa covid prashnaya saha arthika arbudaya nisa (Many people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and the economic crisis),” Serapina noted.

As I listened to their conversation, the phone rang in the house. It was ‘Kothhamalli’ Fernando, the Kokatath Thailaya (Oil for many ailments) Expert who has a remedy for every problem. “Hello Kothhamallinice to hear from you after a long time,” I said kindly.

“Yes, I have been dealing with patients seeking all kinds of treatments for their ailments. The economic crisis has also triggered a health crisis,” he said.

“I was just thinking about the job crisis in the country. Many people have lost their jobs due to the economic crisis and are trying their luck abroad. Do you have a resource for job seekers?” I asked.

“This is difficult. But with health and wellness becoming huge business these days, maybe people with difficulties should join the wellness industry. It’s not easy, but they should try,” he said.

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“But do people have enough money to invest in wellness programs to improve their health? I doubt if that would work,” I said.

“I think if our tourism sector ramps up its wellness aspect, especially at a time when we’re competing with other Asian countries to attract travelers, we should be able to thrive with such a niche offering,” he said ended the conversation after a long discussion on other topics.

Finding work is a difficult task for young people and also for those who have lost their jobs. The economy is going through hard times and according to President Ranil Wickremesinghe “the country is broke” – a remark he made while speaking at a meeting with the Sri Lankan diaspora in London.

According to a central bank statistic – the SL Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) – employment continued to decline in August, driven by increases in layoffs as well as a halt to new hires, non-renewal of existing contracts and retirements.

On a positive note, in August 2022 employment increased in the textile and clothing industry, which often suffered from labor shortages. Garment exports have been the salvation of the economy and have performed well despite the turmoil.

The desperation to get a job amid the job shortage in Sri Lanka was evident in the long lines seen recently outside the Taj Samudra Hotel in Colombo, where Qatar Airways was interviewing for several jobs in different sectors of this Doha-based company led.

Another sector where a number of jobs have been lost is construction. More than 90 percent of construction work has ground to a halt, mostly on government contracts, for a variety of reasons including contractor defaults and shortages of raw materials due to the foreign exchange crisis. By some estimates, nearly 900,000 direct and part-time workers have lost their livelihoods to construction work.

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With many people migrating in search of work, brain drain will weigh heavily on the economy for years to come. If Sri Lanka fully recovers from the economic crisis and reaches the growth levels of 2018, the country will face a shortage of skilled and unskilled labor and then may be forced into a situation where labor has to be imported! That is the challenge facing politics.

Sri Lanka is constantly confronted with bad news. For example, August food inflation rose to 84.6 percent from 82.5 percent in July, according to the central bank, while annual inflation rose to 70.2 percent in August from 66.7 percent in July.

As I sipped my second cup of tea this Thursday morning, my thoughts were on the Herculean task policymakers face to revitalize a struggling economy and what lies ahead in the 2023 Budget, due to be presented in November.

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