Colombo entrepreneur gives workers full wages at Christmas
by Melani Manel Perera

Forced by the COVID-19 crisis to cut his employees’ wages by half, Shantha Herbert told AsiaNews that at the shrine in Tewatta, he realised that as a Christian he could not do that, so at Christmas he “decided to give them six months of back wages as a Christmas gift.”

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Shantha Herbert, a 58-year-old Catholic entrepreneur, heavily cut the salaries of his employees to cope with the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. But at Christmas he regretted this choice and paid his workers six months of back wages.

Herbert lives in the Archdiocese of Colombo where he heads a company with a workforce of 75. Shortly before Christmas, he received an email from one of his employees.

The latter described the hardships she has had to face as a result of the halved salary paid in the last year at a time when prices in Sri Lanka were skyrocketing.

“We have given everything to the company, we have also supported it in the emergency caused by the pandemic, but you have unfairly forgotten our commitment,” wrote the employee.

“These words were a challenge for me,” Shantha Herbert told AsiaNews. “I asked myself: Am I really Catholic? I wanted to keep the financial situation of the company stable, but I sacrificed my employees to do so.”

“So I went to the Basilica of Our Lady of Sri Lanka in Tewatta and asked Our Lady to enlighten me. And so it was. After I confessed, I decided to give them six months of back wages as a Christmas gift. I immediately told the accountant to do it.”

Ranjani Sylvia and her family showed the same spirit of solidarity. Confronted with so with so many people affected by Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, the homemaker invited her family to give up unnecessary gifts and expenses for Christmas, and offer instead the money saved to the poor.

“The parish priest told me that the money we saved bought dry rations for 15 families,” she told AsiaNews. “I feel that this is how we really celebrate Christmas.”