The foreign employment industry took to the streets this week in noisy protests against the increase in medical fees for Sri Lankans taking up employment overseas.
The protest called by the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) took place on Thursday afternoon at Maradana and Kurunegala.
The grouping has accused the Gulf Approved Medical Centre Association (GAMCA) of arbitrarily raising the medical fees from Rs. 4000 to 7,500 without giving prior notice or consulting other stake holders in the industry.
ALFEA Secretary Faizer Mackeen charged that the GAMCA that has 15 centres in different parts of the country had taken a lone decision since it is the only grouping that has the authority to approve medical fitness certificates for overseas job seekers.
“Apart from the GAMCA no one else is authorized to issue medical certificates. As a result this sector is run like a ‘mafia’ and the authorities have done little to stop the rot.
“In addition to the medical fee prospective workers must also cough up Rs. 7,500 to 10,000 depending on the job category as an insurance fee to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE),” Mr. Mackeen charged.
He said that the medical panels at the GAMCA centres often blacklisted persons saying they were medically unfit without providing the individual or individuals an opportunity to get a second opinion.
The decision at the centre is communicated verbally and there is nothing in writing. This prevents a person from seeking redress in a court, he said.
“This is a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of an individual. We have taken the matter up with the SLBFE and the local medical authorities but nothing positive has come out of it,” ALFEA President W. M. P Aponso said.
He added it would be less costly if medical fitness certificates were issued by state-run hospitals in the country instead of having to depend on a private entity such as GAMCA.
He charged that GAMCA centres were poorly maintained without proper sanitary facilities and even clean drinking water for the thousands who come for medical clearance.
He added that the recent increase in the medical fees was determined by GAMCA Head Quarters based in Riyadh Saudi Arabia in violation of local laws and regulations.
Meanwhile, the SLBFE is set to take the matter up with GAMCA and attempts will be made to revert to the earlier fee of Rs 4,000 or with a slight increase, a senior official told the Sunday Times.
SLBFE General Manager Harischandra Batagoda said the matter was discussed with the Minister for Foreign Employment Dilan Perera and other stake holders in the industry on Friday and it was decided to give it priority. “It is clear that GAMCA had violated standard procedures and the laws of the country by going ahead with the increase in the medical fees without consulting others involved in the industry. We intend taking the matter up with GAMCA at the very earliest,” Mr. Batagaoda said.
A senior official with the External Affairs Ministry (EAM) said a foreign organization could not decide on fees to be charged from locals for whatever service without consulting the local governing authority. Furthermore in such dealings the Sri Lankan Mission in Riyadh should have also been notified before any agreement was reached,” Sarath Dissanayake with the EAM Publicity Desk said.Meanwhile Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Ravindra Rubendra said they could act if a complaint was made.
Representatives from GAMCA could not be reached for a comment despite several attempts made by the Sunday Times.