Sri Lanka’s federal government on Monday approved a proposal that would shorten the work week of most public sector staff to four days so that workers will have time to farm their own crops, Reuters reported Tuesday, noting the measure aims to combat Sri Lanka’s worsening food shortages caused by a recent economic crisis. “Sri Lanka’s Cabinet late on Monday approved a proposal for public sector workers to be given leave every Friday for the next three months, partly because the fuel shortage made commuting difficult and also to encourage them to farm,” Reuters reported on June 14. “It seems appropriate to grant government officials leave of one working day ... to engage in agricultural activities in their backyards or elsewhere as a solution to the food shortage that is expected,” the Sri Lankan government information office said in a statement.
The shortened work week will not apply to public sector employees in “essential” fields, such as health or education, Sri Lanka Cabinet Minister Dinesh Gunawardana said on June 13. In addition to the four-day work week, Sri Lanka’s federal government approved a program on Monday in which “public servants can apply for five year no pay leave to go abroad for employment opportunities [sic],” Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror reported on June 14. “It will not affect their promotions or retirement upon return,” the newspaper said of the work-abroad initiative. Sri Lanka’s public sector employs roughly one million people, according to Reuters.
The Sri Lankan federal government was forced to give most public sector staff an unplanned day off on June 13 after realizing that worsening power outages and fuel shortages nationwide would make it nearly impossible for the employees to travel to work or conduct business as usual. “The Government has declared today [June 13] as a special holiday due to the transportation difficulties and the issues pertaining to the continuation of office functions amidst the power disruptions,” Sri Lanka’s News First website reported. “Government schools, Government approval private schools, and Catholic schools are holidays today [sic],” News First observed. Sri Lanka, officially a “democratic socialist republic,” is currently battling its worst economic crisis since it gained independence from Britain in 1948.
The turmoil is linked to a shortage of foreign currency reserves that the government, staving off mismanagement accusations, claims was exacerbated by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which reportedly cut off the island nation from tourism and remittances. Sri Lanka is a relatively small island in the Indian Ocean that was forced to rely on imports for food after banning chemical fertilizers to create a fully “organic” agricultural industry last year. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently apologized for the measure, calling it a “mistake.” Without sufficient foreign currency reserves to pay for such imports, Sri Lanka began suffering from acute food, fuel, and medicine shortages in early March.
These shortages have worsened in the months since then, causing related power outages and political unrest. Sri Lanka’s food insecurity has threatened to push the country into famine territory for weeks. Colombo recently said that it may be forced to promote unspecified “food alternatives” if the shortages continue to worsen. “Plans have been made to reduce post-harvest wastage, save food, store food, preserve and increase the value of agro products, introduce and popularize alternative food [sic],” Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on May 30. Rajapaksa made the stark admission while announcing that Sri Lanka’s socialist government had chosen to privatize some public land for use in the agricultural sector. Sri Lanka’s federal government “owns a large percentage of uncultivated lands, and it was decided to identify those lands and hand them over to young cultivators,” the president’s office said on May 30. In a related move, Sri Lanka’s agriculture ministry announced on June 13 that it had taken over unoccupied rice paddy fields so that they would be “cultivated by the youth, in a bit to promote agriculture,” Sri Lanka’s News First outlet reported. Sri Lankan Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said the “relevant lands will be taken over by the Government for 5 years,” according to the website.
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