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
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
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