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DateLine Friday, 25 April 2008

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Lanka-Bahrain MoU

The MoU signed between Sri Lanka and Bahrain Governments whereby the latter would guarantee Lankan expat workers their security, welfare and a congenial working environment we hope will be a precursor to similar agreements with other Middle Eastern countries employing large contingents of Lankans.

This is the first time since the Middle Eastern job boom opened up in the mid 70s that a host country Government would be directly intervening to ensure that workers get a fair deal and are properly treated by the employers.

The MoU was signed between Foreign Employment Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and Bahrain's Labour Minister Dr. Majeed Bin Mohsin Al Alawi.

Minister Rambukwella referred to this as the realisation of a long standing wish of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to have a system and mechanism in place to ensure the safety, security and welfare of the 1.5 million Sri Lankans employed abroad.

The President apparently had been moved by some harrowing tales of maltreatment and torture of Lankan female domestic workers in the Middle East, whose dream of the pot of gold ended in a mirage in the arid deserts. Indeed, we often read such horror stories in newspapers published in the Gulf itself.

As mentioned by the Minister, prior to this the contact was only between the local job agent and his recruiting partner abroad and there was no intermediary to look into the affairs of these hapless women who were more often than not left to fend for themselves in a strange land and inhospitable environment and often thrown to the wolves so to speak.

And some of them are given to merciless employers who do not even let them sleep for more than a couple of hours, which virtually amounts to slavery.

Now hopefully a process has begun where there will be supervision of the State vis-a-vis the conditions of employment, security and welfare of the expat Lankan workers which certainly is a ground breaking development.

It is reported that over 40,000 Lankans work in Bahrain and around 6,000 more are recruited annually.

The new safeguards will certainly encourage them and boost their prospects. More Lankans, mostly women, work in the other Gulf countries.

This is also an ideal time to raise the level of training programmes for foreign employment. We believe the Government's new initiative to teach English to a wider section of the population, not just schoolchildren, would open up avenues for more and more prospects in the international job market for Lankans.

Time and again there had been emphasis on value added qualifications and training which while commanding better remuneration for the prospective recruits would also boost the country's foreign exchange earnings - our expat labour accounting for the second largest forex income.

The slur attached to Sri Lanka as being the biggest exporter of housemaids appears to be changing with the State of California recently deciding to recruit 1,000 of our nurses for duties in the sophisticated state-of-the-art hospitals which go to show the evolution of our work force from those dismal days.

It is also essential to send more skilled workers, who are better paid, than unskilled workers of both sexes.

The authorities should also strive to secure more openings for males in the Middle East and elsewhere. Sri Lanka has received offers from new labour market countries such as South Korea and Italy for Lankan employees and these must be pursued vigorously. Such legal avenues are a perfect answer for those who plan to undertake dangerous ocean journeys to seek illegal entry to rich countries.

The Government should strive to secure similar agreements from other countries too particularly those of the Middle East to ensure our workers get a fair deal at the other end and spared the humiliations of the past.

On its part the Government should grant more concessions such as tax waivers including duty free cars to returning expat workers (depending on the number of years served abroad) for the silent contribution made towards the country's economy.

The late Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was an ardent advocate of the cause of Lankan expat workers and frequently voiced his sentiments in Parliament highlighting their plight and canvassing for relief and concessions from the Government. Minister Rambukwella is also earnestly committed to ensure the well being of expat workers.

It is hoped that the authorities would pursue their case with vigour so that this segment of our community would feel belonged.

Sri Lanka: Democracy vs terrorism

Taken in the context of Sri Lanka, this compelling description of democracy by President Carter, involuntarily moves to a more powerful echelon of thought, for, democracy in Sri Lanka has indeed been tested more than once, for adversity. And, it is an achievement of considerable significance, that despite the challenges it had to face over the years, the democratic fabric of our country yet remains intact.

Full Story

Troops determined to complete mission to liberate North

Army undaunted; heavy fighting in Muhamalai:

The Forward Defence Line from Kilaly to Nagar Kovil in the isthmus of the Jaffna peninsula has always been a hot topic when the troops and the LTTE clash since the ground that links the Jaffna peninsula has seen vital battles in the two and half decades long history of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

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