Sri Lanka targets tuk-tuk drivers to plug labour shortfall

COLOMBO • Mr Asitha Udaya Priyantha has found his dream job: The 22-year-old is already his own boss, cruising Sri Lanka's streets in his autorickshaw, earning good money on his own time.

But this is not what the island's government wants its young people doing as one million jobs in booming sectors such as construction go unfilled, and businesses look abroad for labourers to get work done.

Amid an economic upswing, the government is trying to lure its workers in the Middle East to return, offering competitive wages and other sweeteners.

Policymakers are also being urged to tap another source of underutilised labour: the glut of tuk-tuk drivers on Sri Lanka's roads.

There are 1.2 million auto drivers in Sri Lanka - far more than is needed for a small island of 21 million, says the union representing tuk-tuk drivers.

"The trend is for young people to start driving a three-wheeler (as soon as) they get a licence," said Mr Rohana Perera, association secretary of the national United Three Wheel Drivers and Industry Association.

"If we continue like this we will not have young people to do any other job in the country," he said.

School leavers need only 50,000 rupees (S$443) for a down payment on a three-wheeler.

The union wants the government to increase the minimum working age for rickshaw drivers from 18 to 35 years to curb the flow of new recruits.

The Professional Three Wheel Drivers' Association blames Sri Lanka's lack of vocational training for young graduates getting behind the wheel instead of taking up better paying jobs.

"Unless there are radical changes to prepare school leavers for gainful employment, they will take a short cut and start driving three-wheelers," the association's Mr Nishantha Perera told AFP.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2017, with the headline 'Sri Lanka targets tuk-tuk drivers to plug labour shortfall'. Print Edition | Subscribe