The Sri Lankan government approved on Tuesday a four-day workweek for public sector employees to help them cope with a chronic lack of fuel and encourage them to grow food at home, as the country struggles with the worst shortages of basic commodities in decades.
It comes as the island nation, home to around 22 million people, faces its worst economic crisis in more than 70 years.
Sri Lanka is struggling to pay for critical imports such as food, fuel and medicine as it faces a severe shortage of foreign currencies. Late on Monday, the government approved a proposal for public sector workers to be given leave every Friday for the next three months.
It said the decision was partly to help workers who are facing difficulties getting to work due to fuel shortages as well as to encourage them to grow fruit and vegetables to help feed themselves and their families.
“It seems appropriate to grant government officials leave of one working day … to engage in agricultural activities in their backyards or elsewhere as a solution to the food shortage that is expected,” the government information office said in a statement.
The extra day off would be a “solution to the food shortage that is expected to occur in the future”, the statement read, adding that cutting down on civil servant commutes would also help reduce fuel consumption.
The United Nations last week warned of a “dire humanitarian crisis” and said four out of five people in the nation of 22 million were forced to skip meals as it planned to provide $47m to help more than a million vulnerable people.
Earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s agriculture minister called on all citizens to start growing food in their home gardens, as the country is expecting shortages of rice — a staple source of food.
Local rice production has dropped in Sri Lanka after a government decision last year to ban all chemical fertilizer. Although the ban has been lifted, the country was unable to secure fertilizer imports for the current cultivation season.
Sri Lanka needs at least $3 billion in emergency funds this year and its leaders have been trying to negotiate a deal with the International Monetary Fund.
In May, the IMF began technical discussions with the government, and a new round of talks is expected this month.
(with inputs from agencies)