Flexi-work systems

Monday, 7 November 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Public service systems everywhere in the world work slowly but at times they make decisions that make excellent sense. The Sri Lankan public service is finally going to implement flexible working hours to ease traffic congestion to Colombo. This laudable step should ideally be taken one step further where the system actively encourages people to use IT connectivity to work from home and improve productivity as well as create space for more women to enter the formal workforce. 

Megapolis and Western Development Ministry Secretary Nihal Rupasinghe told media over the weekend that the proposal would be implemented on a trial basis from next month and on a permanent basis from January in the Battaramulla area.

The Megapolis Ministry and the Transport Ministry are also having talks with private companies to encourage them to have flexible working hours. According to the plans, public sector employees will be given the opportunity to clock in between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and leave between 3.00 p.m. and 6 p.m. At present, most public and private sector organisations have fixed working hours from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

However, it will be compulsory for employees to be working between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to ensure minimum inconvenience to the people who call over for official purposes. Currently the Housing, Highways, Plantations and Education Ministries, the Immigration Department, the Department for the Registration of Persons, the Examinations Department, the Road Development Authority, the Urban Development Authority, and the Foreign Employment Bureau are among the important institutions functioning in Battaramulla.

An estimated 350,000 people including employees and visitors come to the area on a daily basis. After trying the plan out in Battaramulla, the flexible working hours would be introduced in Colombo city and other areas with Cabinet approval.

Meanwhile, in a related move, more UDA lands are to be open for vehicle parking to further reduce traffic congestion. In the absence of a strong plan to improve public transport in the short term the Government has little choice but to move towards policies that are simpler and hopefully easier to implement. 

Stronger regulations such as introducing a system to reduce cars, perhaps by giving alternative days to odd and even numbered license plates as in Delhi, would make the Government significantly unpopular, which it would be reluctant to do on top of recent tax increases. Therefore the most cost effective and efficient method would be to introduce flexible work hours. For the aspirational Sri Lankan middle-class, leaving their hard earned cars at home would be understandably difficult.

Flexible work systems have been successfully used in other countries to encourage families to equitably divide housework and allow women to pursue successful careers. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in his recent five-year economic plan outlined intentions to increase the number of women in the formal workforce from just 34% to 40% by 2020, which would necessitate far reaching policies that deal with childcare and equitable distribution of housework. 

The flexible work systems introduced could be a stepping stone to stronger and more meaningful frameworks whereby male and female professionals can increase productivity and also have a better work-life balance. At least it is worth serious consideration.