Future of Work in Sri Lanka: Shaping Technology Transitions for a Brighter Future

What impact will emerging technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution have on the future world of work in Sri Lanka?

What impact will emerging technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution have on the future world of work in Sri Lanka? Who will be the winners and losers? What can governments, industry, and citizens do to prepare for the changes that lie ahead? We worked with the International Labor Organisation Sri Lanka, to look at the likely impact of emerging technologies across three key dimensions

Automation and Job Displacement
Much of the debate around emerging technologies and automation is centered around expectations of unprecedented job loss. Automation adoption in a particular sector and the consequent impact on labour will depend on a number of factors, ranging from technological feasibility, cost-effectiveness and availability of physical, digital and social infrastructure. Eight propositions attempt to understand how these elements engage in the Sri Lankan context, and the subsequent possibility of job displacement.

Employment Conditions
The spread of emerging technologies is changing organisational structures and employee management practices. Changing and diverging youth aspirations are also likely to reconfigure the dominant perceptions around suitable work and working conditions. Four propositions illustrate the ways in which emerging technologies are likely to recast employment conditions, particularly looking at the nature of employment; the platformisation of work; work culture and employee management; and collective bargaining mechanisms.

Inequities in the Labour Market
Labour welfare and access to technology gains is going to be shaped by underlying socio-economic conditions and inequities. While technological disruptions and digitisation can work towards levelling the playing field, the existing social inequities are likely to get reproduced or even further entrenched with the spread of new technologies. Three propositions present how socio-cultural factors, regional, political and economic differences in Sri Lanka will shape the distribution of technology gains.

Way Forward
Intervention is needed to shape the Future of Work so that it may be equitable and inclusive. Our study proposes a way forward through three Bright Spots and four Policy Portfolios. Bright spots are sectors that are not easily automable or those in which technological innovation can open new avenues for job creation. Policy Portfolios represent a menu of strategies which can enable decent work.


Vikrom Mathur

Vikrom believes that interdisciplinary research on cultural attitudes towards nature and technology need to inform contemporary debates on societal futures. His research interests include the governance of emerging technologies, social and cultural dimensions of technological transitions, cultural perceptions of environmental risk, dynamics between science and policy, and Cultural Theory. He is currently setting up India’s first Urban Living Lab in Panjim as a platform to design, test and fine-tune socio-technical innovation in local urban spaces. He has a PhD from the Institute of Science, Society, and Innovation at the University of Oxford.

Aishwarya Shridhar

Aishwarya Shridhar is a Research Associate Tandem Research. Her current work is focused on the narratives of workers in India’s digital platform economy. Aishwarya is interested in the intersection of social identities with experiences of work. Her Master’s thesis is centred on perspectives of labour and community among sex workers in Mumbai. She has a MA in Social Work (Community Organisation and Development Practice) from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and a BA in English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi.