Foreign Employment Ministry recently declared government's various
projects which are in the pipeline to cocoon Sri Lankan migrant workers
against unfair treatment and protect them from all adversities.
Migrant workers leave their mother country to sweat out and toil in
foreign lands to feed the hungry mouths at home. They in turn contribute
largely towards Sri Lanka's foreign exchange reserves to help the
These workers need to be recognised and pay tributes not only after
any alarming situations coming to pass, but from grass roots level they
need assistance to improve their social, educational and economic
standards. Simultaneously it becomes compulsory to educate all officials
who are assigned to deal with those seeking foreign employment with
requisite knowledge to assist in a positive manner.
A certain responsibility will also fall on the SriLankan aircrews
when these workers fly the national airline to serve with a smile rather
than with 'toffee-nosed attitudes! After all, they are the 'unsung'
diplomats of the country who bring an annual income of US $ 5 billion,
which is equivalent to Sri Lanka's export revenue.
Trade unions in foreign countries have signed extraordinary
agreements with Sri Lankan counterparts on the welfare of migrant
workers. Sometimes these agreements can give a rosy picture in theory,
but such arrangements need to be scrutinised carefully by dotting the
'I' and cutting the 't's to ensure that some hush-hush contracts signed
by various foreign job agencies are beneficial to migrant workers or
workers contribute a major part of country's foreign
Veterans in the battle for worker rights in labour have been
constantly amplifying their concerns stating that "Foreign workers don't
enjoy any rights in the countries they work in, and are subject to all
forms of harassment and wage issues". They say that the agreements will
help tackle various issues and problems faced by migrant workers, but
among many issues laws are few.
A Jordanian Union agreement with Sri Lanka's JobsNet to enter the
recruitment business as a step to break the stranglehold on migrant
workers by employment agencies has managed to change Laws in Jordan to
respect the rights of workers but it appears that even though there are
laws, implementation is lethargic.
Sri Lanka Manpower Welfare Association in Kuwait has been pleading
for a balanced approach by the media on this issue highlighting the
biggest problems as 'worker ignorance', their difficulty, or
inexperience in handling modern household equipment. It is also observed
that influenced by fellow workers some abandon the contracted employers
and seek freelance work outside. In that direction the Association
recommends a robust selective procedure to overcome these problems on
the part of the housemaids.
Foreign recruitment agencies
There are numerous job agencies which have mushroomed today who keep
on placing very convincing TV adverts to woo prospective applicants for
foreign employment. Are all such agencies registered with the Government
Employment Bureau/Ministry and are monitored rigidly to ascertain their
integrity and reliability?
In this regard prospective job seekers need to be educated through TV
and radio programmes about their rights and what to expect in their
employment contracts. Similarly all agencies need to be instructed to
retain full details of their clients on a database and such records
forwarded to the Foreign Employment Bureau/Ministry to keep a tab on all
foreign employment operations and activities.
The Government Employment Bureau/Ministry will have data of those
applicants gone through official channels but what concerns is whether
there is a foolproof monitoring system to detect unscrupulous agencies
such as the one which sent under-aged Rizana Nafeek to Saudi Arabia,
whose life hangs by a thread (since 2007) pending a death sentence. Also
people have read about women who have had to return home penniless,
being pregnant and after suffering all kinds of brutality such as
embedded nails in their bodies.
Introduction of a system where official (s) assigned by the ministry
at the airport to sieve all foreign migrant workers to ensure that they
are safeguarded under the stipulated government regulations on foreign
employment and to collate information on anyone going through private
agencies by retaining a copy of employment contracts, with details of
agreed salary structure, conditions and nature of work, employer's names
and address, contact details, closest Sri Lankan Diplomatic Mission of
the destination etc., in writing will aid the Sri Lankan authorities to
work swiftly in an emergency situation.
There appears to be over 1.6 million Sri Lankan migrant workers in
the Middle East, Asia and Europe and more than 300,000 in Kuwait, over
75,000 in Jordan and 45,000 in Bahrain. It is vital to have a
comprehensive database of all foreign workers abroad in a computer
network linked to relevant Sri Lankan diplomatic missions abroad
An assignment of a diplomatic officer in each of those countries
particularly to look into the welfare of migrant work force, will
certainly upgrade the level of service offered to these groups
officially. A routine phone call to local employers, say once a month,
by such diplomatic officers as a public relations exercise will convey
the message that Sri Lankan government is on their toes and is concerned
about their citizens abroad.
In assisting migrant workers, especially women, the full
responsibility will be thrust upon the authorities to ensure what they
find are 'safe houses', in liaison with employment agencies at home and
abroad, a programme which is said to be undertaken by the ministry at
A programme to put an end to all women seeking overseas employment in
the near future may sound like trying to change the pillow for a
head-ache! Instead of making it more difficult for poor families who
seek greener pastures in foreign lands to brighten their lifestyle, a
meticulous system of monitoring the welfare of migrant workers will be
productive rather than appearing to be cutting the nose to spite the
face. ILO conventions stipulate that 'labourers will not be treated as a