1.8 million migrant workers contribute 8% to Sri Lanka’s economy Despite exploitation and abuse
Steve A Morrell
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Around 1.8 million Sri Lankans working abroad contribute more than 8% to the GDP annually. Their working conditions usually shrouded in abuse and exploitation continue to plague their labour sites, arguably hinged to ‘captivity’, says Donglin Li, Country Director, International Labour Organization (ILO), Office, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
He was speaking at the launch of guidelines for Labour Sections of Sri Lanka in Diplomatic Missions in Labour Receiving Countries’,
Core labour rights enshrined in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principals and Rights at Work, included in the ILO Convention no. 97 (1949), and Migrant Workers Convention No. 143 (1975), spell out labour rights of migrant workers .
Also present at the launch were Minister of Foreign Employment and Welfare, Dilan Perera, Country Director, Swiss Agency Development Corporation Sri Lanka, Jean Michael-Jordan, Chairman, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, Amal Senalankadhikara, Co-Author of the Review Document, Dr. Sepali Kottegoda, Overview Presenter, Committee for Developing the Operational Manual, Padmini Ratnayake, Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Employment, Promotion and Welfare, Nissanka Wijeratne, Secretary, Ministry of Labour, W. J. L. U. Wijeweera, Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Employment R. Amunugama and I. Anzer, Director, SLBFE,
Li said annually more than 214 million people are on the move — 100 million are estimated to be economic migrants sent back to their home countries, with costs incurred in excess of $ 240 Billion each year.
Scant respect for human rights and substandard working conditions at most foreign domestic locations prompted the ILO to launch this grievance mechanism module to address the problem and minimize incidences of abuse and victimization.
Co-Author, Dr. Sepali Kottegoda reviewing the report said the national Labour Migration Policy clearly emphasizes the State’s role in preventing abusive practices and promoting decent work.
The Overseas Contract Workers (OCWs), now about 1.6 million, include an estimated exodus of about 250,000 persons annually. The number of dependents on these workers are currently about 1/3 of the country’s population. Their remittances, an important cog in the economic structure of the country, their working conditions and welfare could not be overemphasized for inclusion for official attention. Broadly the report included assessment of issues and gender related concerns, grievance handling, recommendations for improvement in the current system, and also identification of best practices.
Trade Unions, particularly plantation unions such as the CWC was taken as an example and did not feature well in the report. Contents did not have many salutary aspects that projected plantation unions being concerned about those who left for foreign employment. More importantly, that these workers are invariably duped by bogus sub-agents who extract money and leave with no trace. Usually Colombo Agents feign ignorance that they had any agents in plantation areas.
These workers also submit to paying for false documents. The report said the CWC has been involved in the issue of the migration of estate sector women workers for many decades.
Level of fraud and cheating carried out by sub agents has now reached alarming proportions and cannot be ignored. However, the report further said the CWC has now appointed persons to address these issues. They receive about 1,000 complaints each year which they act on as far as possible.
Generally complaints included non-payment of wages, sickness, harassment, death or over stay. For instance in 2008, complaints of harassment numbered 944.
Dr. Kottegoda said that the complaint handling mechanisms would address these problems, but she also cautioned there was much work to be done.
- Economic sectors
General relevance - all sectors
- Content types
Policy analysis, Documented cases of abuse, and Statistics on work and life conditions
- Target groups
Policymakers, Public awareness, and Researchers
- Geographical focuses
- Spheres of activity
Economics and Social work