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Foreign employment agents get new star rating system
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Author:  Saman [ Sun Mar 11, 2012 6:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Foreign employment agents get new star rating system

Foreign employment agents get new star rating system
Nearly 1.7 million Sri Lankans working abroad

Out of over 800 agencies in the country, 307 were given a new performance rating of one to four stars based on an assessment of their overall performance in 2009 and 2010. None of the agencies was able to bag the top rating of five stars, although there were nine four-star agencies.

Sunday, 4 March 2012
By Pramod de Silva / SO


Nearly 1.7 million Sri Lankans are working abroad (excluding Sri Lankans permanently domiciled overseas). They remit nearly US$ 5.2 billion to Sri Lanka every year. They have become a pivotal component of the country’s economy. The foreign employment sector is, in fact, the country’s number one foreign exchange earner. It is vital that we recognise their contribution not only to the economy but also the social uplift of a large number of families throughout the island.

In this regard, one should not forget the role played by licensed overseas job agents and the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment. It is in this light that we should assess the commendable decision to reward the best performing licensed employment agencies. Such foreign employment agencies identified under the new star rating system were honoured at the ‘Excellence Awards - 2012’ at the Waters Edge hotel.

Out of over 800 agencies in the country, 307 were given a new performance rating of one to four stars based on an assessment of their overall performance in 2009 and 2010. None of the agencies was able to bag the top rating of five stars, although there were nine four-star agencies.

It was only in 2009 that the SLBFE introduced the star rating system (similar to the grading of hotels) to identify and give due recognition to agencies performing through rewards and appreciation.

Among the factors considered for the star ratings are recruitment flow, dispute settlement, new visas, ratio between job orders and departures, payment of tax, renewal of licences, legal cases and complaints.

The authorities need to be commended for creating an awareness among the public and prospective foreign employment seekers that they should go only through licensed job agents. The publication of names of approved agencies in the vernacular press has also helped the public immensely to select the best employment agents.

The high profile case of Rizana Nafeek, who is on death row in Saudi Arabia, has also widened public awareness on the role played by rogue agents. Nafeek was under the legal age limit for foreign employment when she was sent to Saudi Arabia by a job agent who changed her date of birth to get a passport showing an eligible age. She was also not equipped for the tasks she was entrusted with at the household in Saudi Arabia. The language barrier was another factor. There are many other examples of Lankan women workers who have faced various predicaments in Middle Eastern countries due to the actions of rogue job agents.

The SLBFE and police must continue the hunt for fraudulent employment agencies and take tough action against their operators. Such a crackdown, coupled with the dissemination of knowledge on licensed job agents, will make things easier for the SLBFE when dealing with complaints by workers or employers. Taking action against errant employers becomes difficult when the job agents themselves are elusive.

Those who go abroad for employment must be familiar with the tasks they will be required to perform. The SLBFE already has a training program that aims at fulfilling this condition. But a working knowledge of the host country’s language should also be made a ‘must’. Some countries such as South Korea insist on this condition. Judging by the massive demand for the Korean proficiency exam, learning a foreign language is not a big hurdle for our workforce. It certainly helps avoid pitfalls and miscommunication in the host country.

South Korea is among the labour markets we have made inroads in recent years. The search for new labour markets must continue in earnest, because we cannot be too dependent on the Middle East market which sees fierce competition from many other Asian countries. Italy has also become popular in recent years. The availability of legal jobs in such countries also acts as a buffer for illegal migration. The authorities should initiate talks with other European nations to explore the possibility of getting more jobs in those countries, especially for our skilled and professional labour.

After all, they can command higher salaries and better facilities than unskilled workers.

But one problem that has to be overcome is that some professional qualifications obtained in Sri Lanka are not recognised by certain countries. Those professional bodies must address this issue to seek parity with equivalent qualifications abroad. The authorities must look for employment avenues for skilled labour even in our traditional markets such as the Middle East.

An overwhelming majority of our workforce abroad is women engaged in unskilled labour. The authorities should look for more employment opportunities for skilled males especially in the new labour destinations.

However, when it comes to allowing professionals to work abroad, the authorities should balance the interests of the country and the interests of those individuals since ours is a developing economy which requires constant inputs from the professional work force.

Another positive trend is that several Sri Lankan companies are engaged in massive construction projects in Middle East countries.

This raises foreign exchange earnings because the companies themselves are paid in addition to payments to the Sri Lankan workers. The local construction industry must go in search of more such opportunities around the globe.

There have been many suggestions over the years that the authorities must do more to recognise the massive contribution made by Lankans working abroad, apart from the duty free allowance granted for buying household goods at the Bandaranaike International Airport. One such suggestion is that they be given a duty concessionary vehicle import permit, depending on the number of years spent abroad. This is a very positive proposal.

They could also be given special facilities at banks and government offices.

The recognition of foreign employment agents and our workers abroad will be an impetus to an industry that has become a mainstay of a burgeoning economy in the post-conflict era.

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