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Life of a government employee

2013 Jul 07

Forty-three-year-old Thusitha hails from a Sinhalese family in the Southern Province. Like many others from the deep South, Thusitha migrated to Colombo in search of work, and at the age of 18 joined the government sector as a substitute worker at the Department of Railways for a monthly wage of Rs 3,000.



This interview captures the issues faced by members of the working population residing in the urban areas of Colombo, which centre on obtaining a living wage that does not include extra hours worked as overtime, extra hours worked in a private enterprise, which are essential in order to make ends meet.



His work life



Thusitha has worked at the Railways Department for the past 25 years. Having risen through the ranks, he is now an electrical technician. His story is representative of the benefits of unionization for gaining recognition and a living wage for workers in the country's service sector.



Thusitha earns a monthly wage of approximately Rs 35,000, which is inclusive of a basic salary of Rs 15,500, incentive bonus of Rs 4,500, Cost of Living Allowance of Rs 5,000, and overtime depending on the hours worked.

As a public servant, Thusitha is entitled to all the benefits allowed to public sector employees by the State. However, in many instances, the State does not necessarily keep the promises made in the national budget, and salary increments as well as Cost of Living Allowances (COLA) are often delayed.



Although Thusitha and his family are provided with residential quarters within the railway community, any repairs as well as the maintenance of utilities are held as the occupant's responsibility.

As a government employee, Thusitha can avail of paid holidays and overtime payments, as provided under the Wages Boards Ordinance.



An additional benefit to Thusitha and his family is train travel free of charge, to any part of the island five times per year.

On retirement, at the age of 55 years, Thusitha will receive a pension amounting to 85% of his last month's basic salary.



Thusitha has received occupational safety and health training, as well as on-the-job training. In addition to this, he is required to pass official technical examinations relevant to his work conducted by the government, which will give him the opportunity to further his career and qualify for salary increments.

Thusitha has also followed electrical and refrigeration technology education programmes on his own initiative, which serves as a means of furthering his knowledge and increases his income potential by allowing him to engage in supplementary work.



As an active member of the Railway Trade Union, Thusitha contributes not only to the labour force of the country but also to the social capital of Sri Lanka.

Thusitha observes, "I have always had a strong opinion on the rights of employees to a fair and decent wage that can help them live with dignity. This is why I have been a member of my trade union for many years, and hope to continue supporting the labour movement in my country".



Family and domestic economics



Thusitha's wife, Lakmali, is 35 years old. Their two daughters and son are in primary school.

Lakmali is employed as an administrator of a government education institution and earns a monthly wage of Rs 13,000.

She is entitled to a pension on retirement at the age of 50 years.



Thusitha and Lakmali have long term plans, as do most young families. They have invested in a house and property in the suburbs of Colombo. A major component of Lakmali's income is used to repay the housing loan they acquired from a State bank.



As public sector employee, Lakmali is entitled to all statutory benefits under the Maternity Benefits Ordinance, as well as the holidays and paid leave provided under the Employment of Women and Young Persons Ordinance.

Thusitha owns a trishaw with which he provides a taxi service during his free time. He recently purchased a van for hiring out, in order to increase his income.



While Thusitha and Lakmali are financially able to occasionally seek medical treatment from private hospitals, they prefer to do so at government hospitals, to cut back on expenses. Although both are in government service, they are not entitled to any special medical benefits.



Cost of living



Though both husband and wife are employed, due to the huge burden of servicing bank loans taken to purchase a small house and a van, which they hope to hire out, and with the cost of child rearing rising daily, they generally live from pay cheque to pay cheque.



Even though urban rent prices do not plague them, their net income allocation is for food, clothing, children's education, medical expenses, travelling and loan installments. Thus they have no savings component within their finances nor do they have money left over for leisure activities. Their basic living costs are bound to the hours they work.



The dependency of Sri Lanka's workforce on any extra income from overtime payments which helps make ends meet is illustrated by their willingness to continue to work without a break. At the railway yard where Thusitha works, the serious outbreak of the dengue virus with several workers being critically ill in hospital is not enough to deter the workers from frequenting the premises.



The depreciating value of the Sri Lankan rupee and the rising cost of living are prohibitive factors in earning a living wage that allows workers to enjoy the standard of living that they aspire towards by the provision of their labour. –

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