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Thursday, 24 May 2012

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Bettering the lot of SL's migrant labour

At a time when anxiety is continuing unabated among the local citizenry for the security and kindred matters of our migrant workers, the announcement by Foreign Employment Minister Dilan Perera that those aspiring for foreign employment would be required to reach specific skill and proficiency levels, comes as good news. Besides, it is most encouraging that Sri Lankan women will be discouraged from seeking employment abroad as domestic aides.

The earnings for this country generated by our migrant labour are quite considerable and it has apparently come to the point where Sri Lanka just cannot do without the substantial income from this category of workers. But there was, unfortunately, no sense of urgency until now on the part of governments to upgrade the quality of our migrant labour and to enhance the security and well being of our female migrant labour in particular. To be sure, some moves were made in this direction over the years, but they lacked the required visibility and were not substantial. If they were otherwise, life would have been less burdensome, especially for the generality of our women migrant workers.

Accordingly, it is heartening news that Sri Lankan women workers would, as a matter of policy, be discouraged from seeking employment abroad as domestic aides. Needless to say, this category of labour has proved very vulnerable to abuses of numerous kinds and from a purely humanistic viewpoint, it is in the fitness of things that women are discouraged from taking up occupations of this kind that would render them vulnerable to indignities and humiliations of a most revolting nature. Need we say that quite a few of these women migrant workers return home literally in coffins as a result of the brutal violence unleashed on them by some foreign employers?

There was a time when this country was denigrated as a land that freely 'exported' its female labour for pecuniary gain and this was a shaming image that needed to be wiped out. We believe that it is perfectly in keeping with our ethical values to ensure the absolute security of Lankan women who go abroad for employment.

Ideally, they should be discouraged from migrating for work as domestic aides on account of the multifarious abuses they could be exposing themselves to, and we are glad this is being done, but it would, nevertheless, be in order to enable them to upgrade their work skills and competencies because this would enhance their personal empowerment.

The personal and collective empowerment of women is, after all, one of the best safeguards against the cruelties and torments that are visited on them from repressive sections.

Moreover, it is highly laudable that the state is now insisting on our migrant workers obtaining National Vocational Qualifications of a kind before proceeding abroad. This would ensure that our labour would not be lacking in the required quality and would be also in a position to compete successfully in the international labour market. Their earning capacity would be high and so will be their empowerment.

Empowerment and competencies are among the best answers to the problem of exploitation of labour. Accordingly, skilled labour is what we need to aim at. While workers' rights must always be protected and guaranteed, Sri Lanka must be increasingly seen as a country that is brimming with labour with marketable skills of the highest order. This would not only enable such personnel to enhance their earnings, but would also bolster their dignity and sense of worth.

It is also in order, to sustain vibrantly, current programmes aimed at imparting to our school leavers in particular, marketable vocational skills and competencies. Such programmes need to be fully integrated into school curricular, so that vocational skills would be considered as worthy as other school disciplines. Labour needs to be seen as sacred, whether it be white collar or otherwise.

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