News ID: 191128
Published: 1106 GMT April 19, 2017

Sri Lanka battles labor shortage amid massive building boom

Sri Lanka battles labor shortage amid massive building boom

Cheap Sri Lankan labor has built skyscrapers and condos across the Persian Gulf for decades but now contractors at home are desperate for workers as the island nation experiences an unprecedented construction boom.

The labor shortage has seen builders offer lavish incentives ranging from cash to vehicles to keep workers from heading overseas, and in some cases, illegally employ foreign tradesmen to man projects, AFP reported.

Sri Lanka was left with a massive reconstruction task at the end of the civil war in 2009, with large parts of the north left in ruins by decades of fighting.

Annual investment in new homes, roads and port — which has hovered at around 600 billion rupees ($4 billion) in recent years — is expected to almost triple to $11.6 billion in 2017.

But Sri Lanka needs 400,000 new workers — a two-thirds jump from existing levels — to keep up with this surge, said Nissanka Wijeratne, the head of the Chamber of Construction Industry.

"We can't get that many overnight and we will have to import. We are now facing a serious labor crisis," he said.

Private contractors are going to extreme lengths to stop the flow of tradesmen heading to the Persian Gulf for construction jobs, offering bonuses like motorcycles and cars to laborers who choose to work on projects back home.

The government has taken a different approach and sought to put curbs on migration by raising the minimum wage requirements for workers heading overseas.

Under their proposal, Sri Lankans will be barred from going abroad for work unless they can show evidence of future earnings amounting to more than $400 per month.

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