According to the Department of Census and Statistics, the labor force in Sri Lanka is about 7 million and the total number of employed persons is 6.5 million. The unemployment rate is at around 8 percent (2000). While the overall unemployment rate is lower than in the past (which was about 15 percent in 1992), unemployment among youth is relatively high. Around 22.5 percent of the youth of age between 15 and 19 were unemployed and 15 percent in the age group 20 to 29. Of the total workforce, 66.5 percent are males and 33.5 percent are females. Women play an important role in the economic life of Sri Lanka. The largest concentration of women in professions is in the areas of teaching, nursing, and clerical work. In the plantation industry, women make up 68 percent of the workforce and, in the garment industry, about 90 percent of the workforce.
The basic minimum age for employment in Sri Lanka is 15 years, and the government has enforced laws to prevent child labor. The forced or bonded labor of children is prohibited. Despite the laws governing child labor, underage children work as street vendors and hold menial jobs in tile factories, coir-making operations,
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|a Excludes energy used for transport.|
|b Includes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
fishing, and in domestic service. Poverty leads most of these children to work. According to a government study, about 60 percent of the employed children are secondary income earners, contributing as much as 30-40 percent of household income.
The constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the right of workers to organize and establish labor or trade unions, except those employed by the security forces and members of the judiciary. All public and private sector employees possess the right to bargain collectively. The Department of Labor provides conciliation and arbitration services to resolve labor disputes. Although trade union freedom is substantial, it has been subject to periodic modification or curtailment during times of political strife. In Sri Lanka, there is no universal basic minimum wage, and the minimum wages differ from industry to industry. Sector-specific minimum wages are set by wage boards. There are about 39 wage boards, which set minimum wages for more than 100 occupations in industry, commerce, services, and agriculture. Remuneration tribunals also set minimum wages in some cases.
In Sri Lanka, working conditions and workers' rights are well protected by legislation. However, disruptions in the workplace are common. In recent years there were a number of labor actions such as strikes and protests. The rising cost of living has driven many workers to demand higher wages. There are instances where even those in the medical profession have gone on strike for higher wages. Because of the inability of most workers to make ends meet, many Sri Lankans seek employment abroad. The total number of Sri Lankan workers abroad was estimated to be around 788,000 in 1999, of whom nearly 90 percent are employed in the Middle East.