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Ensuring the rights of migrant workers

Daily News (online), 11 April 2016 - Labour migration in Sri Lanka is governed by the National Policy on labour Migration recognizing Governance and regulation of migration, protecting and empowering migrant workers and linking migration and development.

Salient features of the National Labour Migration Policy:

* Promoting opportunities for men and women to engage in migration for decent and productive employment in condition of freedom, equity, security and human dignity,

* Promoting and supporting the migration of skilled men and women to secure work environments where, the protection of fundamental right at work, endorse the principals of good governance by setting in place policies, laws, regulation and administrative procedures,

* Recognizing the significant contribution of Sri Lankan migrant workers to the National Economy through foreign exchange remittances,

*Adopting measures to prevent all forms of irregular migration, trafficking of persons and smuggling of human beings,

* Initial programmes to enjoy all rights, privileges and benefits of migration,

* Recognizing that a key element in protection to all migrant workers is the possession of required skills,

* Recognizing the contribution of recruitment agencies (state and private) as key stakeholders in the process, Sri Lanka diplomatic missions in labour receiving countries are equipped with facilities to provide protection and welfare and recognizing the need to set - up an institute to undertake research or migration.

Overall inflows of migrant worker remittances amounted to $ 7018 million in the year 2014. This value equals to 916,367 million Sri Lankan rupees and remains the largest foreign exchange earner in the country. Qatar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, U.A.E, Kuwait and South Korea were the major labour receiving countries which have hired over 88.38 % of Sri Lankan workers in the year 2014.

Sri Lanka as a party which ratified the UN Convention on the "protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families" has implemented several programmes such as - free life insurance coverage every Sri Lankan employee departing with SLBFE registration, scholarships for children of migrant workers who achieve the targeted results in the national examinations, pre-migration loans through state banks, training programmes for prospective domestic sector female workers and non domestic workers, air tickets for repatriation of stranded workers, safe houses in the host countries to accommodate stranded workers where at any given time nearly 1,000 runaway migrant workers are provided shelter, medical facilities, transport and food at state expense, welfare officers to each of the diplomatic missions in the labour receiving countries to look into the interests of migrant workers, transit home in close proximity to the country's international airport to house destitute workers who return home with different type of sicknesses and harassments.

Need of recognition of skills of return migrant workers, skills certification has been identified by the ministry as one of the priority areas with destination countries to implement pilot programmes on mutual recognition of skills. An agreement with the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission in 2012, on domestic housekeeping training programme conducted by SLBFE has been upgraded to NVQ Level III, which is an internationally recognized standard. This facilitates Sri Lankan females leaving for employment as Domestic House Keeping Assistants in Middle East Countries, Singapore, Hong Kong and Cyprus etc. to obtain NVQ Level III qualifications. NVQ Level III qualification is compulsory for employment as Domestic House Keeping Assistant in K.S.A, Singapore, Cyprus and Hong Kong. Our future lies in recognizing the skills our citizens bring back and upgrading skills for emerging markets for better service conditions and revenue for our outbound labour. An issue prioritized by the ministry requiring significant attention of the Ministry of Skills Development with national and international educational service providers.

Future activities of the ministry

Organize district-wise training programmes for Development Officers attached to the Divisional Secretariats/Provincial Offices by the ministry to build their capacity to the relevant field, Enter into an Agreement/MOU with some Asian/ European Countries other than Middle East Countries to explore new employment opportunities for Sri Lankan skilled workers, Data/information gathers to prepare social profile of migrant workers and left behind families to assist, protect and guide them in a proper way, Linking with Department of Immigration and Emigration, Airport and other relevant authorities and sharing information of migrant workers to ensure their safe migration, develop monitoring system to monitor functions, activities and services of development officers to ensure proper services for migrant workers and their families.

The Colombo Process was set up in the year 2003 in Colombo and the first Senior Officials' meeting was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka with participation of Officials of the ten member countries, namely - Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Sri Lanka was elected to the Chairmanship of Colombo Process in October 2013, for a period of two years with the Minister of Foreign Employment as the Chair- in-Office of Colombo Process and a Strategic Vision and a roadmap was prepared for implementation of the thematic areas, identified by the Colombo Process Member States. The Colombo Process (CP) has now evolved into a dialogue platform for eleven countries of Origin (CoOs) of labour migrants in Asia. The eleven countries are; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

In order to pursue this strategic vision, the following thematic areas have been identified: Review qualification and recognition processes, promote cheaper, faster and safer transfer of remittances, foster ethical labour recruitment, common wage levels and insurance protection, the promotion of standard employment contracts especially focusing on issues of contract substitution and creating a registering mechanism for the contracts, Ensure effective pre-departure orientation and empowerment, including skills development, develop a database on economic trends in the destination countries, which are mostly in the Middle-East.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants conducted an official visit to Sri Lanka in 2014.

Selected recommendations by him include:

1. The creation of income-generating opportunities in Sri Lanka, especially for women, youth and minorities, including in rural areas, would contribute to ensuring that migration is a choice, rather than a necessity. At the same time, Sri Lankans who wish to migrate have the right to do so; leaving any country including one's own is a human right. This right applies equally to men and women;

2. Need for strong rights-based legislation and enforceable agreements with all destination States;

3. Ensure full implementation of, and make legally binding, the Code of Ethical Conduct for Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies, involving all relevant stakeholders;

4. Ensure the full transparency of the Workers Welfare Fund of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), including with regard to the amount of money available and how it is spent;

5. Decriminalize irregular departures from Sri Lanka, as irregular migration should only be seen as an administrative offence, and refrain from detaining returned Sri Lankans who have migrated irregularly;

The contents of the performance report for 2015 by the Ministry of Foreign Employment is indicative of the honest, hard working minister and her staff mandated to look after our largest foreign income earner.


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