EFC symposium to “open gates and eyes”

Monday, 14 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

In an exclusive interview with the Daily FT, the Director General of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon Ravi Peiris explains why their Symposium this year is so important to anyone involved in the world of work   Q: Why did the EFC, choose the theme “Working out of the box – New work practices” for its second annual Symposium? A: Well, I know that ‘thinking out of the box’ is what is usually referred to in management. It is in this context that we thought of this theme, especially with the objective of looking at new and different work arrangements which the world of work requires today. Work arrangements around the world are changing. Flexible hours, part time work and working from home are some of the work arrangements that are already practiced by employers in certain countries. These forms of employment are key enablers for business to retain and create jobs while staying adaptable and competitive. Sri Lanka, with its very rigid labour relations framework, having the Shop and Office Employees Act which is almost 60 years old, needs drastic reforms in order to generate more employment opportunities. In fact, the case for reforms becomes even stronger in the context of Sri Lanka having a very low female participation rate compared to other countries in South Asia. Therefore, we believe that this Symposium will open the gates, as well as the eyes, of all stakeholders in employment, including the policy makers to embrace new forms of work arrangement methods and accommodate them in our legal system. Q: What is your target group and what are the objectives that EFC hopes to achieve at the Symposium? A: Well, our target group is all stakeholders in employment, in which I would also include young persons who would be also joining the world of work. We have three main objectives. The first is for us to know what is happening around us in the world of work in terms of new work arrangements. Secondly, it is important for us to show case some of our own Companies here in Sri Lanka, who are currently employing innovative work arrangements, notwithstanding the fact that our regulatory system is not quite supportive of it. Thirdly, and the most importantly we are seeking to lobby the policy makers to make the necessary reforms in our law. In this context, I must also say that successive governments have been apprehensive of trade unions and have not made any changes in the laws that are needed today in the world of work. We are still proceeding under the misconception that the more laws we have would guarantee “security of employment” to workers. Today, this is regarded as a myth. In a globalised environment where businesses have to compete in the international market, its requirements keep changing from day to day. Employees also have to possess required and relevant skills to remain employable, quite apart from whatever laws are there to protect their employment. Therefore, true security of employment can only be ensured through possession of skills that are relevant to the job market. This is a reality we need to accept. Q: What are the significant attractions of the Symposium? A: I think this Symposium is truly ‘out of the box’. As already mentioned, we have catered differently to handle the objectives already mentioned. Firstly, we have two eminent international speakers, one from academia and the other from the corporate world to tell us what is happening around the world in terms of new work arrangements. Secondly, to cater to our Sri Lankan context, we have arranged a ‘Blue Ocean Session’ in which a panel discussion will be held with four business leaders and four young undergraduates who will tell us what they expect of employees and employers in the current world of work. This session is unique because usually, we only hear from employers about what they look for in an employee. This session aims to redress that balance by giving an opportunity for prospective employees to tell the employers what they prefer in terms of work arrangements, benefits etc. This, I believe is something quite different. We also have three Company Case Studies showcasing innovative work arrangements they have also embarked on, notwithstanding some of the obstacles in the labour regulatory framework. The feedback from participants last year was very positive about the Case Study session because it gives practical real life examples. Q: What is the corporate debate all about? A: The corporate debate is on a very controversial topic which, I am sure, will provoke the trade unions. As you know, the topic is ‘Should work be done within an employment relationship?’ Why not? Work is done in so many ways and therefore, it is time that we addressed this question as well as ascertain whether we are depriving people from entering work by creating certain rigidities and regulations in employment. On the other hand, we need to also look at the impact on society that it creates and the concept of Social Justice, which is a corner stone of the Conventions of the ILO. Q: How can you reconcile ILO standards in the context of new work arrangements? A: In fact, we are happy that Gotabaya Dasanayaka, Senior Specialist on Employers Activities of the ILO Bureau for Employers Activities, has agreed to be with us to speak on ‘Triangular employment relationships and ILO instruments’. The ILO standards do envisage different types of work arrangement models. We do not at any point of time propose that workers’ rights should be disregarded in the context of new work arrangements. However, it is important that we do not have a ‘one size fits all’ approach in terms of interpreting standards when we look at different types of work arrangements. Q: Any particular reason for giving special emphasis to the IT/KPO/BPO industry? A: Yes, of course. Our Symposium will have a separate session which will reveal the findings of a survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers on our behalf on the IT/BPO industry in relation to work arrangements. As you know, this is a sector that has now become one of the highest foreign exchange earners for Sri Lanka. This sector employs knowledge workers who are paid attractive salaries. This sector also has approximately 52% female workers. Unfortunately however, our labour law framework still has restrictions which inhibit the expansion of this industry in our country. One clear example is the prohibition for women to work in the night in offices, which will obviously keep away many investors interested in setting up an IT/BPO industry in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the purpose of this survey is to find out the work arrangements this industry needs and the obstacles it has in terms of the laws, so that we would be able to make representations to the policy makers to make the necessary changes. Q: Why should people attend this Symposium? A: This Symposium is not only for employers. It is for every single stakeholder in employment. In addition, it is also for those who wish to be in employment. This is precisely why we have consciously given a 50 per cent discount on the ticket to all young students under 25 years of age. We all need to know efficient ways of doing business, which obviously has a direct connection to work. Work-life balance is becoming an important aspect that many people look for today. In this context, efficient and productive work arrangement methods need to be adopted by employers if they are to get the most talented workers. The most talented are sometimes, the most demanding. Therefore, from an employer perspective, as well as from an employee perspective, I believe that this Symposium will add a lot of value. The Symposium ‘Working Out of the Box – New Work Practices’ will be held from 31 October to 1 November 2013 at Waters Edge. To secure tickets call Iresha (ireshaw@empfed.lk) or Vasana (vasanaw@empfed.lk) or give us a call on 077477 7771 or 011 356 0996.