Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) play a vital role in the Sri Lankan economy, and their effective business continuity despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 is vital in the new normal. Workplace safety and health measures form an essential element for business continuity where workplaces do not become places of COVID-19 spread. MSEs ordinarily employ less than 50 workers, and many are in the informal sector.
In a bid to ensure that hundreds of MSEs in the Kalutara and Gampaha Districts, where a majority of such enterprises are concentrated, are safe and healthy spaces to work, the International Labour Organization (ILO) together with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), purchased and kick- started the delivery of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) worth 47 million Sri Lankan Rupees. With funding from the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (UN COVID-19 MPTF), this timely response is among the many interventions underway by the ILO to assist the healthy socio-economic recovery of the micro and small enterprise sector of Sri Lanka.
The distribution of PPE kits commenced on 18 November 2020 and is being carried out with the support of the Small Enterprise Division (SED) of the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The PPE kits include handwashing stations, bottles of hand sanitizers, first aid kits, face masks, visitor record keeping books, cakes of soap, packets of paper tissue, packets of paper towels, hand-held digital thermometers, bottles of toilet sanitizer, hand gloves, bins with lids.
The Gampaha and Kalutara district-based enterprises and their specific PPE requirements were identified through swift assessments carried out by SED officers, with the support of the Ministry of Labour. Assessments targeted enterprises, particularly economically hard-hit and women-owned, across various sectors such as tourism-accommodation, food and food processing, textile, craft and agri-business industries.
The enterprises are located in Kelaniya, Meerigama, Negombo, Katana DS Divisions in the Gampaha District, and Beruwala, Kalutara, Panadura, Bulathsinhala DS Divisions in the Kalutara District.
A further batch of PPE kit distributions are planned for before the end of the year, reaching all remaining divisions of the two districts.
The PPE kit distribution is being complimented by OSH risk assessment of MSEs; training entrepreneurs on how to implement OSH measures and how to use PPE; enterprise level training programmes with a focus on business development, psychosocial support, and facilitating access to finance. This will be coupled with a national campaign focussed on bringing awareness of the occupational health and safety (OSH) risks and measures for MSEs, psychosocial risks faced by MSE owners and workers, and how to access state provided financing.
The initiative enjoys solid partnerships with many Government entities for its effective implementation. In particular the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Small Enterprise Development Division of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the Central Bank, and the Ministry of Health. Others include WHO, WFP, the Employers Federation of Ceylon, various Commercial Banks, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the Institute for Mental Health, medical anthropologists, psychologists, the media, and filmmakers.
Video of the event;