Caritas Sri Lanka
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Hon. Dilan Perera MP, Minister for Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare was the Chief Guest at the International Migrant Day commemoration event organized by Caritas Sri Lanka on 17th December 2011 at the SEDEC Auditorium.
Speaking on the occasion, the Minister said that the question of imposing a total ban on Sri Lankan housemaids going abroad for work has often been brought up in many quarters and that he was himself ready to take such a step if necessary. However, since several others are not in favour of a total ban of that nature, he was now working on steps meant to discourage Sri Lankan women from going to work as housemaids in other countries. As an initial move, the age limit was raised from 18 to 21 and over the next few years it is envisaged to bring the age limit up to 30, even though some resistance could be expected for such an increase.
Analyzing some of the causes for the various kinds of problems faced by Sri Lankan housemaids abroad, the Minister said that one of the important factors is that 99 per cent of them are inexperienced women who have never worked before. This is further compounded by the fact that their first job is in a foreign country, away from their families and in a vastly different environment with an unfamiliar culture, especially with regard to language, food, clothes, customs and so on.
Comparatively, the situation in the Philippines is different because residential training is given to prospective migrant women in all aspects of the foreign environment in which they will be working. Their knowledge of English is also a distinct advantage in coping with the issues that crop up once abroad.
Therefore, Minister Dilan Perera said, we have to send more trained workers and discourage the inexperienced first-timers, even though Sri Lankan migrant workers are considered by their employers to be loyal and compassionate, especially in the area of care-giving. Yet their lack of skills is an impediment in their progress. Therefore, the Ministry plans to teach job-specific, company-specific and country-specific skills through a comprehensive training program. It is our duty to impart such skills to these workers at this time, Mr Dilan Perera said, even though we may still be considering a total ban on migrant housemaids at some point in the future.
Furthermore, the Minister said that those who left to work abroad under Government-to-Government Agreements such as those with Israel, Italy and South Korea have fared better, and a lesser number of complaints against employers have been received.
Citing another reason for the problems faced by housemaids abroad, the Minister noted that although there are recruiting agents who do not charge any fees from the prospective migrants, quite a few are doing so in addition to the commission they earn from the employer in the country of destination. In the event of a housemaid wanting to return home due to some reason or other, the employer demands the repayment of the commission thus paid. Complications arise as a result, since the Government cannot undertake such a task, except possibly to pay for the return air ticket for the concerned worker.
In Saudi Arabia, the Government plans to implement a social security scheme in collaboration with the Labour Ministry of that country.
Another new initiative is the issue of a Debit Card which will be of immense benefit to the migrant workers, especially if and when their passports are confiscated by their employers as is often the case. The Debit Card, in addition to serving as an identification document, will also facilitate bank transactions, initially through three State Banks but hopefully other private Banks will follow suit. In time, the Minister said, even a separate Bank could be set up exclusively to handle such transactions since the foreign remittances of unskilled migrant workers are at a very high level, even more than those of skilled Sri Lankan professionals who send little back to their motherland.
In spite of all this, the Minister noted, the unskilled migrant workers are looked down upon by the rest of society and even talked about in derogatory terms whereas in the Philippines they are welcomed with flowers on their return as a recognition of their invaluable contribution to the nation’s economy. Even the respective recruiting agents in Sri Lanka are considered inferior as compared to their other colleagues engaged in recruiting skilled workers and professionals.
All this must change, the Minister stressed. Our society’s attitude towards these compatriots must be transformed. We must signify this by our actions on a day like International Migrants Day. We must treat them with respect and equality since they render a great service to Sri Lanka.
- Economic sectors
Occupations in services - Domestic work and Home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations
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Policymakers and Researchers