Public services

Building a high quality public service in Sri Lanka through workplace reform

The public service is a major employer in Sri Lanka, engaging some 1.4 million people. This Report recommends fundamental changes to the status quo: a new approach to workplace relations; a new human resource capability; new structures, processes and practices; and a new ethos.

In Sri Lanka, the delivery of public services is impaired by inadequate systems, low skills and limited competencies, and often interrupted by strike action. Employees and their representatives persistently raise concerns over a lack of opportunities to influence pay and conditions of service, and anomalies and inequities in the employment regime.

It is proposed that employees, both directly and through their representatives, actively engage with their public service employer through processes of consultation and negotiation to improve productivity and regulate changes to pay and conditions.

To do this, new engagement and dialogue forums will need to be chartered: at the workplace, at sectoral level, and at national level.

New dispute resolution mechanisms are proposed to support the proposed social dialogue framework, with mediation and voluntary arbitration options being introduced at every level.

A last resort right to strike is envisaged, except in circumstances where a withdrawal of labour would imperil the health or safety of the community or seriously damage the economy or society.

A considerable investment in the human resource function of the public service is advocated.

The changes mooted are of such a nature that new Parliamentary legislation will be required to enable it.

A markedly new system cannot be the product of new architecture and funding alone; its introduction and longevity will depend on a new compact anchored in mutual respect and cooperation being forged between the state as employer, the union movement, and the public service workforce. It will also require a supporting investment in education and training in new ways of thinking and doing for the key stakeholders.

The challenge for the social parties will be to overhaul their current engagement models very substantially. The prize is an efficient, productive, and equitable public service positioned to grow and sustain society.