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 Post subject: 1.5 million Sri Lankans working abroad
 Post Posted: Fri May 18, 2007 11:00 pm 
1.5 million Sri Lankans working abroad

There was a high concentration of housemaids in ME countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan, with a combined share of more than 80%. In contrast, there was a high concentration of skilled migrant workers to Malaysia and South Korea.

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@ TML / Wednesday, May 16, 2007

According to Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) estimates, 1.5 million Sri Lankans were employed overseas as at end of last year.

The Central Bank’s (CB’s) 2006 Annual Report said that foreign employment placements in 2006 declined by 13% to 201,143; compared with 231,290 in 2005. This decline was mainly due to tension in the Middle-Eastern region (MER) and poor supply of skilled labour and housemaids.

Remittances from expatriate Sri Lankans have been providing a significant relief to cushion pressure. However, Sri Lanka still caters mostly to the low demand for unskilled labour with a high concentration of unskilled employment opportunities in the Middle East.

Programmes to diversify the supply of labour, both among different job categories and different geographical areas will increase the potential Sri Lanka has in bringing more foreign exchange.

This will support programmes for regional development and poverty reduction as the majority of such job aspirants are still from the rural poor. Furthermore, the financial system needs to innovate a mechanism to attract more remittance inflows.

The MER contributed to more than 90% of total foreign employment opportunities. However, there was a noticeable increase in employment opportunities in South Korea and Malaysia in recent years following the efforts of the government.

The share of males in foreign employment placements continues to increase. The share of male foreign employment which was 25% in the mid 1990s increased further from 41% in 2005 to 44% in 2006.

This increase in the share of male foreign employment was due to the high demand for skilled and unskilled males for jobs in Qatar in the last two years. Consequently the share of females in total foreign employment declined further, from 59% in 2005 to 56% in 2006.

Seventy per cent of migrant workers were in the unskilled category, although the share of housemaids, the most vulnerable and lowest income earning group dropped to 50% in 2006, from 54% in 2005.

There was a high concentration of housemaids in ME countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan, with a combined share of more than 80%. In contrast, there was a high concentration of skilled migrant workers to Malaysia and South Korea.


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 Post subject: What price our housemaids in the Middle East?
 Post Posted: Thu Jun 19, 2008 6:07 pm 
What price our housemaids in the Middle East?

@ The Island / 18June2008

I believe that young girls and women started going for employment in the Middle East in the late seventies. Initially this number would have been quite small but since then over the years the number has multiplied manifold and possibly this number could be in the region of about 1,000,000. According to estimates published by the Foreign Employment Bureau, most of them are employed in the Middle Eastern countries as semi-skilled workers known as housemaids. There are a number of factors that have influenced the employment of women folk in the Middle East.


Quest for employment in the ME

Some of the reasons adduced for seeking employment in the ME are:

1. The oil boom in the Middle East brought in increase revenues to not only to the countries but also to many households. Previously these households possibly did not have the means to employ housemaids from other countries. But now with the additional income and their desire to have a more comfortable living style they were able to attract housemaids from the poorer countries.

2. Contrary to the situation in the Middle East, the incomes in Sri Lanka were dwindling. The average household could not afford the steep increase in the cost of living and also gainful employment was also not available.

3. The men were finding that their earnings were inadequate to meet the ever increasing cost of living and were not able to make ends meet and were constantly in debt.

4. Opportunity for employment of women was also not freely available and even if they found some employment,the earnings were not adequate.

5. This situation forced men to change their minds and were reluctantly compelled to send their women abroad for work.

6. The initial batches of young girls and women, both married and unmarried, who brought in the extra incomes, jewellery and household goods changed the mindset of other women at home and they began to think differently and were bold enough to venture out.

7. The number of young girls and women willing to go abroad began to multiply in huge numbers and even women from remote and backward areas were willing to leave their parents, husbands and children in search of the pot of gold.

8. Men and parents who were initially reluctant now seem to enjoy the benefit of additional remittances that were coming home.

9. Quite a large number were able to buy small plots of land, and began to build their houses in stages. Some were even able to buy outright small ready-made houses.

10. They were also able to bring in a number of household items like gas cookers, television sets, electrical appliances, modern kitchenware, furniture and fittings and also gold jewellery.


Private recruiting agencies

A new breed of companies styling themselves as "Foreign Employment Recruiting Agencies" were initially set up in the metropolis and later in all parts of the country. The proprietors of these countries went abroad and met their counterparts and obtained agreements or contracts to recruit and send housemaids for employment overseas.

At the start recruiting in large numbers was difficult. The owners began to dispatch staff both men and women to the main cities as well as to the villages to canvass women for employment. Various incentives were freely offered with a view to tempting innocent women to go abroad. Vigorous campaigns by way of advertisement in all three languages in the daily papers were skillfully handled. At times they resorted to colour advertising. Before long they were able to obtain prospective workers in large numbers. Unfortunately, they were not very specific about choosing the best. With the passing of time, supply exceeded demand and these agencies were making big money. It was big business.

Normally in covential business terms, the local agents should receive commissions from the principals. But in this case, the principals instructed the agents to collect their fees at this end.l

With little or no guidance, the innocent victims began to mortgage whatever assets they had or borrowed money on interest to pay the agents. The housemaids were asked to pay money for so-called processing of passports, medical reports, documentation charges and whatever services they could cook up. Before long it became evident that lot of malpractices detrimental to housemaids seeking employment abroad were being carried out. Hence, the Foreign Employment Bureau, under the Ministry of Labour, was set up.


The Foreign Employment Bureau

The government became aware of the problems and corruption that were being practised by recruiting agencies and promptly took steps to establish the Foreign Employment Bureau under the Ministry of Labour.

The ministry immediately notified by gazette that all recruiting agencies for overseas employment must register themselves and an annual fee was levied.

The bureau officials became aware that the local agencies were obtaining lot of money under various pretexts without any justification. Many promises were made to these innocent people but were not fulfilled. There were instances of women being also sexually abused and these practices were getting wide coverage in the local newspapers.

The head of the Bureau started taking various steps to curb such malpractices. Staff were recruited to handle these matters. They initiated the following steps:


1.The Head Office was opened in Colombo with the assistance of the Secretary of the Ministry of labour;

2. Later branch offices too were opened in the main cities;

3. Training institutes were set up in various locations and skills were being taught;

4. These assisted the applicants to process and obtain their travel documents;

5. Medical examinations and reports too were handled by the bureau staff.

6. The agencies were requested to register all visas that were sent for employment.

7. Insurance protective covers for injuries and setbacks that happened to the housemaids were issued and

8. Facilities were also made to handle the remittances that were sent by housemaids.


It was envisaged that the bureau will provide all safety measures for the well-being of the housemaids. But it was not to be. Here to the officials were corrupt and resorted to illegally obtain or big money. It has been reported that many officials including the Head of Department were interdicted and later dismissed. Or were they reinstated?

The Foreign Employment Bureau did not have a smooth running. It was constantly under surveillance and at times an embarrassment to the government.


Equal rights for female workers


Those organizations which constantly clamour for women's rights and equal opportunities were very much elated with the globalization plan of employment. Reports were pouring in that more jobs were generated for women than for men. It became blatantly clear that labour migration in Sri Lanka carries an element of feminization. The enhanced feminine partaking in the foreign employment market is no doubt more progressive. One might even construe this as a symbol of triumph on the part of the women pressure groups who struggle for equal opportunities for women. It is reported that nearly 60% of emigrants are women.


Women on their own

This was another important area where defenders of feminine rights were concerned. All the teachers of the main religions have preached on women guarding their modesty and being chaste. Codes of conduct were frequently touched upon. Islam, too, lays great emphasis on the modesty of their feminine folk, but it is rather strange that quite a few Muslim women have sought employment abroad. Sri Lankan society traditionally placed high moral values on their women folk especially among the young and the married. The institution of marriage was sacred. The society frowned upon misbehaviour especially among married women. Strange but yet true, the behaviour among married women in the lower strata of the society was not very commendable. Nevertheless, women misbehaving created sensational news both in the cities as well as in the villages. Many reports were frequently were coming into the country that some women were having extra marital affairs in their places of work.


Justification for women working abroad


The moral justification of young girls and women being sent as glorified servants has continuously been a subject frequently and rigorously discussed and written in the electronic media. Leading sociologists, top educationists, social reformers, defenders of feminine rights have continuously agitated, debated and have written and spoken extensively on the question - Is it morally right for our women to be sent abroad to be employed as glorified servants? Nearly all of these groups have vehemently opposed women being sent away as servants. They have with monotonous regularity highlighted the pitfalls into which women can fall as their dignity and security are in danger. Time and again in various forums they have addressed this matter to the President, Prime Minister, Minister of Labour and Minister of Foreign Affairs to put an end to women being sent abroad. They have in fact requested that legislation be brought in to ban women being sent as housemaids. Right now we understand that regulations are on the way to ban women with small children and women less than thirty years too should not be allowed to go as housemaids. Government officials have shamelessly defended themselves articulating huge amounts are being sent by these housemaids to boost our economy. The government officials are not willing to look at the crisis that can arise when poor women are exploited or rather sexploited in being away on their own.

Some of the views of those who are opposed to young girls and women, both unmarried and married, being sent abroad are:

1. The safety and security of women living abroad amongst strangers are in danger.

2. They are susceptible to being sexually harassed and molested.

3. Hitherto the young girls and women who have lived with moral dignity are bound to lose their self-respect and chastity as well.

4. Married women who have left their children behind for two or more years should be aware that they (children) would be neglected and lose the comfort and care they receive from their mothers.

5. Children who are left to be cared and looked after by the father are in danger of being sexually molested by the men in the neighbourhood and sometimes by their own father or relatives. When a man is intoxicated he behaves worse than animals and can cause lot of harm to their young daughters who at most times are immature and cannot defend themselves.

6. Bringing up small children and to look after them for long periods of time is a near impossibility for the fathers and invariably these children are left on their own and exposed to danger.

7. The many day to day tasks the mother plays in bringing up children and looking after their needs are too numerous for the father to handle. He will be a poor substitute.

8. The wives send money back home for their husbands to either buy a plot of land or even a small house. But in most cases the husband had squandered the savings.

9. Most often the men have been living irresponsibly and

10. The children too have been neglected and in the end the poor wives’ future of a bright future shattered.

Foreign remittances as a source of income

Successive governments since 1977 have been preaching from the rooftops that the foreign earnings from the Middle East bring the biggest revenue to the country. Initially, the government according to the Central Bank statistics were 100m. They are now are receiving a colossal sum of 20 billion US Dollars. This is a huge amount of money coming into the country. But what is tragic is that instead of this money being used for development of the country's economy, it is wasted on highly questionable public expenditure. The foreign money earnings are wasted on projects that are not beneficial to the community or the country. Successive governments want to encourage women going abroad as housemaids. To them the dignity of the women or the country does not matter. What is needed is US Dollars or hard currency. This is the sad tale of poor Sri Lanka.

List of references
1. Article in the newspaper by Bogahawatte . S. Nimal.
2. Article in the newspaper by De. Silva Sam
3. Fernandopulle Lalin
4. Speech delivered by Mrs. Ismail Jazeema on the subject Rights of Women.
5. Article in the newspaper by Ladduwahetty Nimal
6. Speech delivered by Marikar M.N. at the symposium on Women working in theMiddle East
7. Article in the newspaper by Satyapalan R. Franklin
8. Article in the newspaper by Shah Jehan M.S.


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