06/28/2022, 15.09
Send to a friend

Colombo : Economic crisis hits self-employed workers

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

Tuk tuk drivers, hotel owners, photographers: everyone in Sri Lanka shares the same problems. Fuel continues to be in short supply, making travel impossible. Large amounts of foreign currency cannot be withdrawn, blocking purchases. So many businesses have already closed.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The economic crisis in the country has affected all categories of workers, from the 3 million self-employed to those in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that play a key role in the national economy. According to analysts and experts, since Sri Lanka has no unemployment insurance program and active labor market policies are weak, it would be necessary to ensure adequate social coverage especially for the self-employed. 

Instead at the moment there are several sectors that are increasingly struggling, particularly those related to tourism. Hotel and restaurant owners are facing problems on several fronts, from purchasing fuel to essential food items, including vegetables and fish, whose price has skyrocketed. To replace gas, many have turned to firewood, but it is equally scarce and expensive, especially in cities. Those who did not have space for wood fires have been forced to close.

According to sources in the All Island Three-wheeler Drivers Union, due to fuel price increases, tuk tuk (three-wheeler cab) fares have risen to 100 rupees per kilometer (26 cents) when previously they maxed out at 75 rupees per kilometer (20 cents). Drivers fear a decline in passengers over the long term, but the problem often arises much earlier, when it comes time to get gasoline: to buy fuel, one has to spend many days in line and sometimes, even then, there is no way to buy it. Perera, a Negombo citizen and three-wheeled cab driver who used to make several trips a day, now has no passengers. He related that many young people have already quit their jobs and left the country in search of employment elsewhere. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has decided to appoint a regulatory authority for three-wheelers, but many tuk tuk drivers are of the opinion that the decision will not have the desired outcome: provincial councils are slow, and legislation regarding tuk tuk taxi drivers should be introduced in Parliament, they say.

An initiative is also underway to introduce electric and solar-powered cabs, but the conversion could cost 600,000 to 700,000 rupees (1,574 to 1,836 euros): an expense that is difficult to recoup in the future and therefore likely to be inconvenient. According to Tissera and Dissanayaka, two tuk tuk drivers from Colombo, it would also be necessary to have an extensive network of charging points and solar panels at gas stations.

Other self-employed people also explained their difficulties to AsiaNews: the owners of two photography studios in Kandy, working for several advertising companies, had had a profitable business in recent years. But now Sri Lankan companies have "cut their advertising budgets," and those involved in commercial photography are having difficulty finding clients. The owner of a photography studio in Ratnapura, who buys his equipment online on e-commerce sites, told of being limited by the 0-a-month import restriction imposed by the government because of the dollar crisis. Travel options are also limited due-again-to the fuel crisis, while power outages impede photo editing work and many are unable to deliver work on time.

Romesh and Sarath, owners of computer stores, are also affected by the dollar crisis: because banks do not issue banknotes, they cannot buy computer equipment to sell. Even turning to other banks, they have been unable to get letters of credit and are worried that they may soon close their business.

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
China's exports collapse, more than 20 million jobs lost
Growing unemployment in the Philippines, also due to corruption and waste
Tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang rise as Cold War fears cast a shadow over Korea
12/02/2016 15:14
Sri Lanka’s city residents are the most affected by food shortages
30/05/2022 17:51
ILO forecasts loss of between 7 and 22 million Asian jobs in 2009


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”