Aldoris, the choon-paan karaya came merrily down the lane in his music-blaring tuk-tuk and stopped as the trio had gathered outside the gate. Dishing out hot-hot buns, he had nothing to say except listen to the conversation which on this Thursday morning surrounded the controversial Christian preacher Jerome Fernando. “Godak denek den katha wenne ara [...]

Business Times

On the migration trail


Aldoris, the choon-paan karaya came merrily down the lane in his music-blaring tuk-tuk and stopped as the trio had gathered outside the gate.

Dishing out hot-hot buns, he had nothing to say except
listen to the conversation which on this Thursday
morning surrounded the controversial Christian
preacher Jerome Fernando.

“Godak denek den katha wenne ara jerome pranando kiyana deshakaya gena. Mona wada eya kiyala thiyenne (There is a lot of discussion about this preacher Jerome Fernando. What has he been saying)?” asked Mabel Rasthiyadu.

“Eya wena aagam walata apahasa karala kiyala waratha wela thiyenawa (He is reported to have made insulting remarks about religions),” said Serapina.

“Policiyen kiyala thiyenawa, eyawa ath adanguwata gannawa kiyala singapuruwen apahu awahama (The police have said they will arrest him when he returns from Singapore),” said Kussi Amma Sera.

“Jerome Fernando seems to have landed himself in a soup,” I said to myself, listening to their conversation. At that moment, the home phone rang. Calling today was my jolly-mood economist friend, Sammiya (short for Samson).

“Hi, I wanted to discuss with you new developments involving migrant workers. It seems there are lot of concessions being offered to them,” he said

Indeed the authorities seem to have woken up from a deep slumber and are offering multiple concessions to migrant workers including duty free vehicles, a higher duty free allowance, low interest loans, housing and a new web platform to streamline jobs.

“While there has been a drop last year in migrant worker remittances (remittances at one point reached US$7 billion in 2018), the current signs are encouraging,” I said.

Sri Lankan worker remittances rose in April 2023 to $454 million compared to $248.9 million in the same month in 2022, latest Central Bank data show.

For the 4-month period ending April 2023, remittances were recorded at $1.867 billion, a sharp rise from $1 billion in the same 2022 period.

“At the current level, remittances should reach over $4 billion this year which is a good sign,” he said. Thereafter, we discussed other developments before winding up with the promise of meeting over a coffee.

Remittances by migrant workers are still the highest earner of foreign exchange to the country, one reason why many concessions are being offered.

While living conditions overseas have improved, migrant workers – particularly domestic workers (in a recent column we spoke of how the authorities are reclassifying domestic workers as housekeepers with an improved dignity of labour) – still encounter problems in the workplace in the context of adverse working conditions, non-payment of wages and other issues.

However, a new survey puts a positive spin to working conditions. The survey by the Centre for Migration Research and Development revealed at a meeting in Colombo this week, shows that the main objective of migration is to accumulate savings to build a house, followed by remittances to meet household expenses.

Most returning migrant workers said they were satisfied with their working conditions, even though they had an excessive workload to complete.

The vast majority of respondents who resided in accommodation provided by their employers was satisfied with the housing. Most female respondents who were domestic workers had their own room, while male workers had to share rooms.

The majority of respondents said they were satisfied with the time spent in the host country, according to the survey.

Sri Lanka’s reliance on the savings of migrant workers has been since the 1980s, Currently Sri Lanka has 1.5-2 million workers abroad. Annually around 200,000 to 300,000 go abroad on job contracts largely to West Asian and some Asian cities. Recently, Israel offered 2,000 jobs to Sri Lankans as caregivers while the US offered multiple jobs for nurses from Sri Lanka.

One of the problems confronting migrant workers is the lack of information and restrictions on jobs available abroad. At the Colombo discussion where the survey results were released, it was revealed that an applicant to a job in a West Asian country was turned down due to an age limit which he wasn’t aware of. Such information needs to be disseminated to the public as quickly as possible.

This is where the website of the Foreign Employment Bureau can play a key role in providing up-to-date information for all would-be applicants seeking an overseas job.

Recently it was announced that the Government plans to overcome cumbersome official procedures for migrant workers with the introduction of a single digital platform which would also prevent malpractices, corruption and abuses in the industry.

Minister of Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara told the Business Times that the aim of this web platform is to streamline foreign employment from the time of recruitment to the completion of their services in West Asia with a hassle free service for migrant workers.

It was noted that several civil organisations working on migrant worker rights had brought to the notice of the authorities, shortcomings and difficulties faced by female migrant workers.

Their main request was to devise a new system of foreign employment by fully digitising the sector in order to maintain close contacts with government authorities to seek their assistance as and when they need any assistance from the state.

Several instances were recently reported of people going to countries in West Asia on visit visas – without job contracts – and getting stranded overseas. Human trafficking by dubious job agencies was also reported with job seekers facing difficulties abroad.

Last year’s economic crisis led many to go abroad particularly to Dubai and Singapore in search of jobs as it was easier to enter these countries where a visit visa is obtained on arrival and you don’t need a job contract to enter these cities.

Another benefit to migrant workers is the plan offering housing to these workers.

The housing project exclusively for migrant workers is to be jointly implemented by the Foreign Employment Bureau and the National Housing Development Authority. Under this project, urban condominiums and rural single housing units will be constructed as per the needs of the Sri Lankan migrant workers. They will also be given concessions to build a house on their own plot of land.

As I wound up the column with a mug of tea brought in by Kussi Amma Sera, my thoughts were on the need to further facilitate the process of migration for jobs and ensure the protection and safety of migrant workers.

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