Home-based workers in Sri Lanka
Legal standing of home based workers in Sri Lanka
There are no labour laws in Sri Lanka specifically for home based workers. As there are no laws targeting home based workers, there is also no standard definition for the term “home based worker.”
According to Sri Lankan law, employment relationships are broadly defined under the 2 categories of “dependent workers” and “independent workers.” All of the local labour legislation that affords legal protection for workers applies only to the category of “dependent workers.”
Under Sri Lankan law, “independent workers” or persons working from their own homes are considered their own masters. The area of “independent workers” is also “unregulated”. As, such they do not qualify for the standard protection afforded to “employees,” through the national labour legislation, such as conditions of employment, remuneration, occupational safety and conditions, social security, freedom of association and collective bargaining. “Independent workers” also do not have access to justice through the Labour Commissioner and labour tribunals that have been set up for labour/industrial disputes.
Legal protection for home based workers
Under the current structure, legal protection for ‘independent workers” must be sought under the contract law of Sri Lanka. An independent worker can go to the civil courts for justice for any matters under his/her contract. An independent worker may also complain to the police and use the existing national laws, that are available to all citizens, with regards to any other matter, such as harassment, theft etc..
However, most people do not go to the civil courts as they are time consuming and expensive. The matter is made more complicated because although the only employment related protection for home based workers come from their contracts, issuing of a letter of appointment, or an employment contract, is only mandatory under the Shop and Office Employment Act, which applies to employment in shops and offices. Therefore, is not mandatory to issue an employment contract in respect of other categories of employment.
Types of home based work in Sri Lanka and access to justice
A large share of home based workers in Sri Lanka fall within the informal economy. Although there are no specific labour laws protecting home based workers, home based work has traditionally been a common form of income generator in rural areas. In recent time, more high value, home based work has been evolving among the educated urban populations.
In the case of rural home based work, such as coir rope making, performed by women at home, there is often no written contract stipulating the employment conditions. In such cases, workers may not have access to justice, unless they are able to leverage a relevant national law. For instance, a person employing a home based worker may suddenly terminate their service for no just cause, but the home based worker will not be able to use the existing labour laws to challenge the termination.
An emerging trend, still very small, in Sri Lanka, is for home based work by higher skill categories such as software developers, who generate software for local and foreign companies and writers who contribute articles for local and foreign establishments. While such work is performed under a contract and has the protection of the contract law, the application of the law becomes more complex in the case of foreign contracts.
The outsourcing industry in Sri Lanka may, in some instances, also come within home based work category.
In some cases employers issue a letter of appointment/contract, wording it in such a way as to show that the work is not performed under a contract of employment. However, in such situations, the worker can go to courts to determine whether a contract of employment exists or not.
What is the payment for home based worker?
As there are no labour laws governing the home based worker sector, there is no minimum wage set for any category of home based worker. Therefore, all home based workers are required to bargain for their pay.