EFC-WCIC collaboration bids for labour reforms to enhance female participation at work

Wednesday, 11 October 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The women participation in the workplace is painfully low in Sri Lanka. According to the ILO statistics (2015) while the employment rate of men in proportion to the population is 72.46%, it is only 32.46% for women, despite women constituting 52% of Sri Lanka’s population. The archaic labour laws and employment practices, bureaucratic red tape and cultural norms hinder many skilled women becoming partners of the national economic growth. 

The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) has partnered with the Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce (WCIC) in lobbying with the Government and other relevant stakeholders for labour reforms to enhance women’s participation in the labour force. “We have tabled several reforms in this regard and are working very closely with the EFC in formulating a methodology to translate these reforms to policy,” notes Rifa Musthapha, Immediate past Chairperson – Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce and Chairperson – SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council. The EFC-WCIC partnership is also ambitious to introduce these reforms to the rest of the SAARC countries through SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SEWEC) of which the WCIC holds the chair for 2017/2019. 

Technology and increased connectivity has ensured that flexi hours are a viable option for companies today creating a win-win situation for female employees as well as employers. “Flexi hours allow employees to effectively meet their family and their personal commitments, driving them to be more efficient and motivated to work. It is especially a boon for working mothers with young children or with aged parents,” asserts Musthapha. Moreover, such arrangements enable employees to work at a time of the day when they are at their productive peak and those with a long commute can plan their work hours to avoid the stress of commuting during rush hours, she says. 

The WCIC, as its immediate past Chairperson explains, has already submitted a proposal to introduce flexi working hours for women to be made mandatory at the work place. “Some of the institutions have introduced this but it has not been incorporated as regulation. We have also submitted a proposal to allocate a Specified Percentage of government procurement/contracts to women entrepreneurs starting from local government level.” The move hopes to increase women’s participation in the formal sectors. “This model was followed in the US and we do hope it will be looked at positively in Sri Lanka.”

Making the public and private sector ‘attractive’ for women to get into the work force is also imperative, observes Musthapa. Companies which establish crèches and day care centres should be offered incentives, so that women are more driven to be employed, she says. 

Introducing a minimum quota for women to fill local government councils is also a step in the right direction in achieving equality for women and encouraging more women at work, maintains Musthapha. “Although we have 52% female population, representation in Local Government bodies is less than 2%. The introduction of the minimum quota will be a first step in increasing women’s participation in important leadership and decision making roles in the country,” she notes. 

The EFC, as its Director General, Kanishka Weerasinghe asserts, has long lobbied for the removal of all restrictions that hinder participation of women in the workforce. These include the lifting of prohibition/limitations placed on women working during the night, creating an environment for women to work part-time as well as making use of tele-working options such as home-work and remote working options and working around the concept of a virtual office. “The emergence of the ‘gig economy’ and the ‘diverse’ opportunities that have followed appear to be preferred by women. Moreover, we have also lobbied for changes in law that would facilitate a ‘work-life balance’ and would also ensure the provision of facilities such as transport, rest rooms, canteen facilities, etc. in order to encourage more women at work,” notes the EFC Chief.