IPS recently hosted a discussion on the Sri Lankan perspectives of a World Bank report titled ‘More and Better Jobs in South Asia’ and brought to light many issues related to the Sri Lankan job market. Among the diverse range of views that surfaced, the debate on “what really is a better job?” was an interesting one that emerged. As several panelists argued, for Sri Lankans, “better jobs” may not always be determined by just the wages people earn. For the Sri Lankan worker other things clearly matter too.
With the number of elderly dependents growing faster than the working age population, Sri Lanka will need to create fewer new jobs than it has historically done – just under 30,000 each year – for the next two decades. It is easier to absorb new entrants into jobs of lower productivity. However it will be more challenging, but critical, for Sri Lanka’s future success to meet its people’s rapidly rising aspirations by creating jobs of higher quality. This, then, is the crux of Sri Lanka’s employment challenge. Although the number of new jobs required to be created is less than before, their quality needs to be much better.
The estimates on the size to which India’s middle class is set to grow in the coming years according to various agencies1 are staggering – 267 million by 2015, 583 million by 2025, 600+ million by 2030. The market potential, just next door as it were, is clearly enormous. Sri Lanka has to seize this opportunity by increasing its trade and investment integration with India and gain access to this huge consumer base.
With stimulated economic activity in post-war Sri Lanka and the heightened investment in connective infrastructure islandwide there is no doubt that the logistics sector will have a key role to play in supporting growth. Budget 2012 has indeed brought in proposals that give the logistics sector a ‘shot in the arm’. But it is just the beginning.
Speak to any major industrialist in Sri Lanka, and they will tell you that electricity is a critical constraint on their operations. It is unlikely that the concerns of the industrial sector could be effectively addressed amidst the attempts by the CEB to make the power sector financially viable. It seems that the industrialists would have to continue to grapple with their electricity issues at least until financial viability is restored to the sector by 2015, assuming the tariff rebalancing exercise is executed on schedule.