Sri Lankan government workers take Friday off to grow food before shortages | Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is asking government workers to take an extra day off each week to grow crops in their backyards to avert an impending food shortage.

An unprecedented economic downturn has led to shortages of several staple foods, as well as gasoline and medicine, and high inflation is ravaging household budgets.

“It seems appropriate to grant government officials leave for one working day of the week and provide them with the necessary facilities to engage in agricultural activities in their backyards,” a cabinet statement said.

The extra day off would be a “solution to the food shortage that is expected to occur in the future”, the statement said, adding that reducing travel by officials would also help reduce fuel consumption.

The United Nations has warned that Sri Lanka is facing a “serious humanitarian crisis” and said four out of five people in the country of 22 million people have been forced to skip meals.

Motorists, meanwhile, have suffered for months from petrol and diesel shortages, and long queues of vehicles outside service stations are a regular sight.

Public employees will have every Friday off for the next three months without a pay cut, according to the cabinet decision, but the arrangement will not apply to essential service staff.

The government said each of its 1.5 million public sector workers who wished to travel abroad to find work would be granted up to five years of unpaid leave without affecting their seniority or pension.

The move aims to encourage more people to find jobs abroad and send money back to the island, which suffers from a critical shortage of foreign currency to buy imports.

Sri Lanka has defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

Public protests demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa due to the mismanagement of the economy and the severe hardship people are facing.

Rajapaksa introduced sweeping tax cuts soon after he came to power in November, accused of leaving the island without the means to pay for essential imports.

The cash crunch has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has wrecked the tourism industry and reduced remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad.

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