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Power for manpower


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 16 February 2017 00:00


As manpower woes drag on for Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) and other private companies is it time for regulators to step in? 

Using manpower agencies to recruit employees has been a common practice in the public and private sectors for filling low-skilled manufacturing jobs and clerical employment opportunities. In recent times the practice has extended to high-end service sectors such as telecommunications and banking, and public sector organisations. 

Consequently, manpower workers make up around 17% and 23% respectively of the workforce at two public banks. One-third of the workforce at another leading private commercial bank is made up of manpower workers, according to the National Association for Trade Union Research and Education (NATURE). Many thousands more are employed in investment zones scattered around the country. 

A manpower worker is disenfranchised at several levels. Most workers are paid less than those that have to be directly employed. The manpower agency is able to make around Rs. 18,000 per employee recruited. Manpower workers are excluded from the loan facility, medical care and leave encashment provisions enjoyed by the permanent employees. Furthermore, the manpower worker is recruited as contract labour and with no assurance of continued employment.

Significantly lower salaries, exclusion from benefits and temporary employee status are characteristics of precarious employment faced by manpower workers and lead to greater levels of exploitation and vulnerability. Employers benefit from such insecurity faced by manpower workers to demand greater productivity and obedience. As temporary and contract workers, the constant fear of losing their jobs hinders them from appealing for better conditions, leading to the deteriorating working environment of manpower workers.

In the past, manpower agencies were often depended upon to fill job vacancies with high turnover and unappealing conditions. Currently, they have become the means for companies to further reduce the costs of labour, evading employment standards and increasing the availability of a flexible workforce. Although manpower workers are expected to perform jobs within the core business functions of the company, the management of the worker’s contracts, payments, benefits and work arrangements are given over to manpower agencies. The employment relationship is concealed and distorted in this way, and companies have taken advantage of it to avoid responsibilities towards the workers. Some large companies run their own manpower agency as a subsidiary firm, enabling them to benefit as standalone profit centres and from the supply of cheap labour to their businesses.

In certain instances, where the take-home daily wage offered seemed higher than that of a permanent worker, manpower workers have consented to remain in the same position. However, their ignorance of the fact that permanent workers are awarded additional allowances and benefits to salaries may have led to such decisions. Permanent workers have shown some reluctance to take up issues faced by manpower workers and even unions usually ignore their plight.  

Few trade union leaders see the practice of manpower recruitment as a menace to all workers and stress the broader implications including those to permanent employees. Manpower agencies have to be regulated and better legislation has to be put in place to respond to changing employment patterns to ensure that these workers do not become victims.


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