How Lankan migrant worker sustains the economy
December 18 is designated International Migrant’s Day. The Ministry
of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare and the Sri Lanka Bureau of
Foreign Employment are making arrangements to commemorate the
International Migrant’s Day on December 18, 2011 on an elaborate scale
covering the whole country. The Daily News caught up with the Minister
for Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, Dilan Perera to inquire
about what is in store for Sri Lankan migrant workers on this important
day and also to look beyond to what lies ahead for the future progress
of the sector, benefits for the migrant workers and its overall
contribution to the national economy.
Q: The International Migrant’s Day
falls on Sunday (December 18th). What are your ministry's plans to mark
this important day?
A: We have organized a
gamut of programmes with the highest state patronage to mark this
important day. Despite the substantial contribution of labour migrants
to the national economy, they find themselves a marginalized group. One
of the main efforts in our campaigns launched Sunday will be to provide
an appropriate corrective. The first is to engage in a massive awareness
raising campaign to make it widely known in Sri Lanka about the true
contribution made by migrant workers. We have made arrangements to
commemorate Migrant Day, falling on December 18, 2011, in a fitting
manner in every district. This would be a rousing clarion call for
recognition of migrant worker.
Minister Dilan Perera
The events on Sunday are arranged in such a way to highlight among
the general public the importance of the contribution made to the Sri
Lankan economy by our brothers and sisters who are working abroad under
difficult conditions. We expect that the educational and awareness
raising programmes arranged would help to increase appreciation and
respect for our migrant workers in our society.
Q: Can you describe these programmes
A: The programme is under
the theme ‘Dirisariya’. Let’s appreciate migrant workers, the heroes of
our economy. While the celebrations are scheduled to take place
islandwide, the Colombo District event is scheduled to begin at 8.30
a.m. from a point opposite the Presidential Secretariat and will be
graced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It includes the issuing of a
First Day cover and stamp issuance of a Migrant Card, which combines the
data of the migrant worker and a debit card, a migration walk with the
participation of about 2,000 from the migration community and a vehicle
parade with educational floats. Also awareness programmes on the 18th
would publicize advice related to safe migration, reputed recruitment
agencies in Sri Lanka and the welfare measures arranged by the SLBFE.
Two mobile services would be in operation in every district in the
country. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the
International Labour Organization (ILO), foreign embassies and
ministries are supporting these endeavours.
We would like all public servants, Government Agents, Grama
Niladarees, Police officers, families of migrant workers and others to
join hands with the local SLBFE Office on December 18, to appreciate our
migrant workers, the heroes of our economy.
Q: What is the current
strength of Sri Lankan's employed overseas and their contributions in
the form of foreign revenue?
A: It is
estimated that over 1.7 million Sri Lankans work outside the country and
have remitted approximately US $ 4.1 Billion in 2010. This remittance
income is by far the highest foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka,
providing 33 percent of her foreign exchange and it amounts to 8 percent
of Sri Lanka’s GDP. The contribution made by Sri Lankan Migrant Labour
Force has exceeded the income received from traditional export income
generating sectors such as tea, coconut, rubber, gem and garments.
During the six months period January - June 2011, there is an average
increase of 26.39 percent on the workers’ remittances when compared with
the corresponding period in 2010.
Consequently, the total workers' remittances in 2011 could exceed US
$ 5.2 Billion. Migrant labour remittances are one of the major reasons
why Sri Lanka heads South Asia in the Human Development Index. Migrant
workers are the economic heroes and heroines of Sri Lanka.
Collective remittances are most impressive. However, the human element
is the key in this sector. At times these migrant workers undergo
numerous difficulties, while working abroad. What is your ministries
policy for labour migration, if it comes to a possible conflict between
humanism and a totally remittance earning per-occupation?
A: All our
efforts are towards ensuring a labour migration process that adheres to
principles of good governance and rights for all men and women to engage
in decent and productive employment abroad in conditions of freedom,
dignity, security and equity.
The Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare take, as its
guiding direction, the relevant sections of Mahinda Chinthana Idiri
Dekma. The significant re-direction offered in the Mahinda Chinthana is
that labour migration policy change focus from a totally remittance
earning pre-occupation treating migrant workers as commodities, to
dealing with migrant workers as human beings, while facilitating them to
earn their incomes in a dignified fashion. The ministry will focus on
humanism and the sub-ordinate one of income generating commodity. If
there were to be a possible conflict between humanism and commodity,
humanism should always prevail.
Q: There has been a
continued debate regarding the pros and cons of sending females abroad
as unskilled domestic workers?
A: The contributions made by these females to our economy are
enormous. However, we are also aware of the negative impacts of this
practice. Apart from the many problems faced by few of the female
domestic workers, another detrimental aspect of the migration of large
number of mothers with young children was the psycho-social impact on
the children left behind.
These issues have been identified by the government as needing
priority attention by taking counter measures for the protection of
children left behind and to increase the outflow of professional,
technical, middle management and skilled manpower so that Sri Lanka can
harness the true potential of its intelligent and educated human
resource, thus reducing dependence on the earnings of female domestic
workers. For some time now we have continuously engaged in a policy of
discouraging females migrating as domestic aides.
When I became minister I increased the minimum eligibility age of
such women for migration to 21. In the next three years I plan to
increase this to 30. Also plans are underway to up their training in
order to promote their status as housekeepers. This category of workers
could earn more than US $ 400 per month.
In the Mahinda Chinthana policy of the government of President
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the need to promote and improve the image of Sri
Lanka as a source country that provide high calibre professional and
technical and skilled personnel in specialized fields such as nursing,
nautical services, accountancy, IT, banking and engineering has been
The thrust of this policy is to increase the migration for skilled
employment rather than unskilled and female domestic workers. This
policy has resulted in the reduction of female domestic workers to 42.4
percent of total migration in 2010 from the 70 percent level in 1995,
which can be considered a positive achievement. We expect these figures
to further reduce in the coming years.
Q: There was speculation that your
ministry was planning to introduce a National Migration Health Policy.
What is the current status of this initiative?
A: It is ready. This would
be unveiled on Monday, December 19. The Health Ministry and the IOM are
partners in this programme. We are looking to address both mental and
physical health requirements of the migrant workers through this
programme. Not only the worker but their family members too would be
integrated to this. It has wide benefits for both migrant workers and
In addition from January onwards we are planning to initiate a
concept called 'family week' for migrants and their families. In this
the migrant worker hopefuls and their husband or wife would be given
counseling prior to departure. We intend to educate them on numerous
aspects related to migration and how to conduct themselves in carrying
forward a rewarding and an amicable family life both during and post
Q: There was also talk about a
national migration profile?
A : Yes, we would
mainstream labour migration into all national polices by including key
migration variables into data collection, ensuring a proper use of data
in the national surveys, including those used in national housing,
health, labour, gender, education and migration statistics. Work has
already started to prepare a National Migration Profile, which is to be
published in early 2012. This migration profile would be a comprehensive
data and information tool for evidence based policy making on migration
and development. Towards this objective the ministry has evolved a novel
concept of country specific, company specific and job specific training
to gain a strategic advantage over the others. Pursuant to this
objective, the entering into bilateral agreement on Labour Migration
with other governments is pursued.
Q: There were several proposals in
the government's 2012 budget in relation to the sector. Can you describe
what benefits these measures would bring to the migrant workers?
A: First I have to tell
you that no politician in our history has done more for this sector than
President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has been closely associated with this
sector since his tenor in the office of the Labour Minister. He
understands the requirements and needs of the migrant workers well. In
the budget he emphasized that it was very important to provide project
and enterprise related management skills to facilitate those who are
returning from foreign employment to invest their savings as capital to
commence new businesses.
As a measure to promote such initiatives, he proposed that all new
income avenues from such projects will be exempt from all taxes for five
years. He also proposed to permit such projects to purchase the required
machinery and equipment, free from customs duties. Then the third he
proposed to launch a Credit Assurance Scheme to enable such persons to
have easy access to credit, at low interest.
In addition our Ministry has initiated a scheme to provide housing
loans at a low interest for low income earners. In this loan the
interest would be 13 percent.
Q: In addition what are the other key
welfare measures enacted in recent times?
A: Providing free life
insurance coverage for every departing migrant worker, upon SLBFE
registration, providing scholarships for children of migrant workers who
achieved targeted results in the national examinations, providing
pre-migration loans through state banks, Conducting training programmes
for prospective domestic sector female workers at island wide training
centers of SLBFE, Providing air tickets for repatriation of stranded
workers, are some of the measures.
Q: What about new opportunities for
migrant worker hopefuls in the immediate future?
A: Our focus is on skilled
and professional categories which will have a higher earning capacity
and less employment related problems. We intend to focus on our country
specific, job specific and company specific strategy. To facilitate
this, the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare is keen
on achieving regional cooperation and understanding by holding
discussions and through international agreements with both sending and
In this respect entering into a Bilateral Agreement on Labour
migration with Italy, the first such agreement signed by Italy in recent
years could be described as a landmark. Under this Agreement the Italian
government will establish a Labour Coordinating Office in their Embassy
in Colombo and it is likely that it will create about 3,500 employment
opportunities on a government to government basis. This will eventually
curb the illegal human trafficking operations to Italy.
Another, initiative taken is to negotiate a tripartite collaboration
between the University of Hertfordshire of UK, Open University of Sri
Lanka and Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment on Nursing Education
with special emphasis on foreign employment.
Already, MOUs have been signed with Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Libya and
South Korea and Bilateral Agreement with Qatar. Negotiations are
underway to enter into similar MOUs with Kuwait, Oman and Lebanon.
Similarly, a MOU with Israel is under negotiation for the recruitment of
2,500 construction workers and 500 care givers. Renewed the labour
agreement with Qatar. This will enhance employment opportunities to Sri
Lankans in Qatar, especially with Qatar preparing to host the foot ball
world cup FIFA in 2020. Saudi Arabia has agreed to enter in to a MOU on
Labour Migration which will be the first such MOU with any country by
Successfully negotiating to establish a job-ensured export-oriented
workers training institute as a joint collaboration with Sri Lanka
Bureau of Foreign Employment and two Malaysian organizations. This will
meet the growing demand for especially skilled workers in Malaysia.
Q: What are the long term goals?
A: The ministry has set
its target on becoming the best provider of professional, technical and
skilled manpower to the global market and foreign exchange earnings of
US $ 10.0 Billion in 2015. The policies formulated to achieve this
figure, will have to be embedded in the five-fold hub strategy which Sri
Lanka is pursuing. The five hubs are shipping, aviation, commerce,
energy and knowledge. The remittance earning policies will fall within
the knowledge hub. This entails an upward shift from unskilled to semi
and skilled grades.