By Nadya Perera.
WORK AT YOUR OWN RISK is a documentary exploring the complex realities of women workers belonging to the informal economy, in and around Colombo.
Although, agency work and forms of temporary employment like fixed-term contracts are commonly associated with informal work arrangements, employers (both in public and private sectors) continue to come up with new ingenious ways to shift risks and responsibilities on to workers. The film is an attempt to capture the stories of a few such hard working individuals, forced to live and work in a permanent state of limbo.
The film is loosely structured in to three chapters:
- Sex Workers
- Contract Workers
- Manpower Workers
There are over 60,000 sex workers in the country at present, who work in massage palours, night clubs, lodging houses, on the streets and via online sites. It is estimated that they service around 180,000 persons a day.
Although ‘sex work’ is not considered an offence in Sri Lanka, the Brothel Ordinance and Vagrancy Ordinance, continue to criminalize many acts in what is considered prostitution, including soliciting sex and running of brothels. As a result, sex workers are not figured in the ‘recognized’ economy.
According to Labour Force Survey data, approx. 60.2% of Sri Lanka’s labour force is ‘Informal’ – meaning that it is employed by the informal sector. But this understanding of informality, fails to capture the growing number of informal workers employed on a precarious basis by the ‘formal’ sectors.
This segment of the film introduces us to a 74-year-old woman, working 24-hour shifts at a large-scale tea exporting factory. We also meet two aging street-cleaners contracted by a private company to keep our city clean.
Hiring more and more casual workers to do the work, previously carried out by permanent employees, is no longer contained to sweat shops. Today, it is common practice by telecommunications providers, hotels, banks, and industries – including export-oriented factories in state-regulated industrial zones.
The ‘in-sourcing’ of workers hired from recruitment (Manpower) agencies, once associated with the unorganised private sector, is now a common practice in the public sector and semi-state workplaces.
The third and final segment of the film unpacks this concept of ‘Manpower work’.