• “Illegal migrants mainly face issues “

    The foreign employment sector is still the largest foreign exchange earner of the country. On an average, 250,000 persons annually migrate to foreign countries seeking better employment. Of the total number of Sri Lankans working abroad over 90% are employed in Middle Eastern countries, according to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment. Commenting on the current situation of the foreign employment, Foreign Employment Ministry Secretary G.S. Withanage says the Government is paying more attention to promote foreign employment for skilled and professional categories.

    In an interview with the ‘Dailymirror’, Mr. Withanage pointed out that only 2-3 % of the entire labour migration force have faced serious negative issues. “Unfortunately a few negative cases get highlighted in the media ignoring the 97% which are successful,” he pointed out.

    Commenting on Sri Lankans who return after working abroad for years, particularly in low skilled jobs, Mr. Withanage said that the Ministry is in the process of drafting a sub policy in order to support these returnees to reintegrate into their own communities.

    He emphasized that unless the local labour market is ready to provide similar economic benefits, people would continue to migrate for foreign employment.

    He shared the following:

    Isolation of Qatar by other Middle Eastern countries has created panic among Sri Lankans working in Qatar. Foreign Employment Minister Thalatha Athukorale in her statement said there are nearly 140,000 SL expats. How safe are our people caught up in the middle of this debacle? 

    It is a regional issue. Sri Lankans working in the country are not affected. If any Sri Lankan wishes to return home, they must inform the SL Embassy and can make necessary arrangements. Otherwise, Qatar, as a country, has taken up all measures to face any food shortages or essential supplies. We are constantly watching the progress. If a need arises to move Sri Lankans out of Qatar, we can arrange that quickly. Air travel is as usual to and from Qatar. So we do not see any threats to the Sri Lankan expats.

    There are several stories we hear from time to time about men and women go missing after reaching Middle East seeking semi- skilled or unskilled jobs. What is exactly happening to these people? 

    This is actually a small percentage of the total number of people who migrate seeking foreign employment. It can be estimated around 2-3 % of the total. Unfortunately a few negative cases get highlighted in the media ignoring 97% which are successful. If you have a holistic view on the entire scenario of the Sri Lankan labour migration, majority of the people have enhanced their lives, elevated the living standards of their families, built houses, educated their children and so many successful stories behind them.    And, majority of those who encounter trouble in the foreign land, are people who have migrated without registering with the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE). They did not choose the proper path to migrate. We request the public that if they wish to migrate for foreign employment, they must first register themselves locally with the SLBFE.

    Exit Permit

    Major legal barriers in obtaining ‘exit visa’ There were reports of hundreds of Sri Lankans returning home from Kuwait after being held up in safe houses sponsored by the Government. What are the steps taken by the Government to assist all the migrant workers living in the so-called safe houses to return home?  

    It is not only from Kuwait. We are making all possible efforts to bring Sri Lankans who are now living in safe houses in the ME countries. They were taken into the safe houses for various reasons, such as issues with their employers and breach of contract and some due to over staying their visa. To bring them back to Sri Lanka, there are legal barriers. For this we need to get the exit visa, and for that, we need clearance from the respective employers. We must have a proper dialogue, consultation with the employers in this matter. The employers must give his/her consent to return the employees home. These negotiations are done through our diplomatic missions and the labour counsellor attached to the mission in the respective countries. In most of these cases, employers do not allow the employees to return based on various reasons. Then we need to look for alternative methods. According to our diplomatic missions, if the employer does not give any valid reason, the option is to negotiate with the Ministry of Labour, the Department of Labour or any other Government authority responsible for labour issues in that country or its Police Department. With the clearance from the Department of Labour or the Police, we do have the possibility to proceed for the exit visa. This is a time consuming effort.

    There is an allegation against the Government for not deploying adequate number of officials at our diplomatic missions to serve the large number of SL expats. The counsellors and officials appointed through your Ministry and the SLBFE seems inadequate to cater the SL expats in those countries. What steps the Ministry has taken to rectify this issue? 

    We are looking into this issue quite seriously. We want to increase the cadre. Yet, there are procedures and protocols to follow as a Government institute. We cannot increase the numbers independently. We need the approval of the Finance Ministry and the Management Services Department. We have already informed them in writing, giving them the reasons behind our request and had discussions with the relevant officials. The process is underway. We strongly believe there is a distinct possibility of our request being approved. After that we can start recruiting more suitable people to these posts. We may not be able to recruit the exact number of officials whom we need. Because it would incur a big cost.

    A new system was proposed by Saudi Arabia at the fourth ministerial consultancy under the Abu Dhabi Dialogue held in Colombo recently to introduce a special system that can e-register migrant workers and trace their whereabouts online. Has it been implemented or what is the current situation? 

    This is the MUSANED system. It registers all details of the worker migrating to Saudi Arabia including details such as recruitment agency, employer’s name and address, worker’s details etc. A pilot project was conducted and found to be successful. The SL Govt was keen to get actively involved as it serves a safety net for the Sri Lankans. The results and observations of the pilot project were presented at the senior officials’ meetings and the Fourth Ministerial Consultation held under the Abu Dhabi Dialogue. (The international event was held in January, 2017 in Colombo) Representatives of Saudi Arabian delegation conducted an awareness programme to the Sri Lankan stakeholders including recruitment agencies. These data need to be filled online and a part of this responsibility is with the recruitment agencies. It is of utmost importance that correct data should be given.

    Sri Lankan Government has given the consent for the system and we are waiting for Saudi Arabia to fully implement it. If this gets implemented soon, it will be for the benefit of both the countries.    Migrating men are requested a confirmation statement on family welfare

    The Government implemented stringent regulations to the family background report which has an effect on women migrating as domestic aides and care givers. Is this now implemented? 

    Yes, it is. The Cabinet of Ministers took a decision to appoint a committee at the ground level headed by the Divisional Secretary and several other officials. The development officer of that particular division will analyse the forms filled by women who wish to migrate and forward a report to the Divisional Secretary. The committee headed by the Divisional Secretary will evaluate these reports and issue recommendations. Since it is a Cabinet decision, it is a directive by the Govt. We, as a ministry, are obliged to adhere to Govt decisions.

     Majority of the women migrating for jobs are battered by poverty. This may be their best solution to stabilize the family economy. Currently there aren’t any successful programmes that provide employment for them. Doesn’t the family background report restrict a woman’s right to choose her employment and her right to economic empowerment? 

    We cannot restrict any persons’ right of choice and the right to mobility. But the Govt took a decision based on certain social implications, particularly considering mothers having children younger than  five years of age. The sole aim is to protect the children and safeguard the family unit. If it fails, the entire social structure fails. Yet, the Govt has given a directive to monitor this process for six months and then evaluate and analyse pros and cons. It will happen through the SLBFE in a few months. It will include the effect on people and on the officials concerned as well. We will have to wait and see the review report and then decide. I have already instructed the SLBFE to study the process and conduct a proper research. Solid research based data will lead to a more accurate decision.    And the other factor is that we have taken a decision to request from fathers having children younger than five years of age and planning to migrate for work, a statement ascertaining the safety and the welfare of his children. He should indicate in writing about who will take care of the children, how will their welfare measures get fulfilled etc. Though this will not be as strict as the family background report, we plan to implement it in the near future.

    Lost a few job markets but new venues to open up  

    In the recent budgets – 2016 and 2017, gave decisions to standardize the wages for expats. Accordingly, it stipulated a minimum salary in foreign employment. Has this been implemented? And if so, how will it be implemented? 

    In 2016, the Govt took a decision to make the minimum wage limit for the migrant workers to be 300 US dollars. That we implemented. In the 2017 budget, the Govt had decided to increase it to 350 USD. With this increase, Sri Lanka faced several consequences. We lost a few markets. The decrease is not only in the ME countries, but in other labour receiving countries like Malaysia where there was a demand for skilled workers. In countries like Malaysia, even their own citizens earn on an average which is less than 350 USD. Mega scale companies of those countries which are directly dealing with the SL authorities in recruiting Sri Lankans have informed us about their concern and that they will lower the number of recruitments. Labour migration is very competitive and there are several other labour demand countries that are willing to send their citizens as workers to a much lesser salary. Yet, we as a country, also need to be concerned about the standards on which we send our citizens as migrant workers.

    Skilled professionals had been migrating for better employment over the past. But since recent times, the Govt, through the SLBFE, started to promote foreign employment for certain professions such as nursing. What is the plan? 

    Professionals will gain better job opportunities in a more regularized manner. This is not only nursing. There are demands for trained professionals in many fields. Overall we are giving a lot of effort to promote the skilled category. The conditions are more favourable for Sri Lankans who wish to migrate for employment. Through better trainings we are also trying to elevate the professional levels of those who migrate for lower skilled categories.    We need to diversify the job markets rather than concentrating on the Middle East. We have already received positive responses from countries like Germany and Japan. There is a huge demand for caregivers. German companies providing caregiver services have extended their willingness to sign agreements with the SLBFE to recruit suitable people as caregivers. We are in discussion with several such companies in Japan as well. These countries are ready to provide training as well for suitable candidates. If these plans turn positive, we do not have to depend on the ME job market.  In addition, an Australian private institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the SLBFE to train Sri Lankans in nursing and caregiver professions. The agency has a much wider network attached to job markets. Their focus is not only in Australia but the network is linked to countries like South Africa and several ME countries. The negotiations with the private companies were conducted through the SLBFE and the Australian High Commission in Colombo. This institute is already established in India and looking to expand the service to Sri Lanka. These positive responses have been very supportive in our efforts to promote jobs in the skilled category.

    Factories in foreign countries, particularly in the garment sector are recruiting Sri Lankan workers directly. There is a significant demand as SL has experienced skilled labour in the apparel sector. Does the Govt have a special authority or a system to oversee this new booming labour migration trend? 

    There is no specific authority. Yet whoever migrates to any foreign country for employment, and whatever the sector is, must register with the SLBFE. Even the agencies related to this recruitment must be registered with the authority just like any other recruitment agency does. They cannot work independently. They must follow the established rules and regulations.

    There were reports that stated job opportunities for Sri Lankans in Israel had been affected due to illegal overstay. What is the situation now? 

    Major legal barriers in obtaining ‘exit visa’

    The problem still exists. Sri Lankans who migrate for agriculture seasons in Israel have not adhered to agreements. Normally when the employer wants the same employee for work again, he/she should request for them. So there is always a chance for efficient workers to continually get the job opportunity. But due to what many Sri Lankans have done they have created a lot of problems and this would cut down the job opportunities. If this condition continues, we will lose this job market. Therefore we will take stern action against this visa overstay.

    Professionals with experience migrate for better job opportunities and they claim that they do not get registered with the SLBFE. Almost all are recruited by the employer directly. How is this situation covered by the ministry and the SLBFE? 

    Most of persons in this category are now registering with the SLBFE. A few years ago the numbers were very low. But we see that more skilled professionals do register with the authorities.

    The common norm among people who migrate to work, irrelevant of their work category, state that they find no importance in registering with the SLBFE or getting the medical insurance, as they do not feel that this system properly protects them during their tenure. What are your comments on this? 

    It is not a correct decision. If they migrate with proper registration, we know where they are. If there is any trouble we can contact them easily. When a problem occurs they need the Government protection. I did come across certain cases where professionals had issues with their employer and they had no registration back in Sri Lanka. When problems arise the Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in that country is informed. Whether these Sri Lankans are registered or not, our embassies have the capacity to protect them being citizens of this country. The diplomatic missions will do that since it is their obligation and responsibility. These professionals, had they been registered with the SLBFE, we are also in a strong position to support them at difficult times, be they financial or legal. The Sri Lankan Government can intervene without any obstacle.    When a person registers before migrating, every document related will be registered with the SLBFE, even the employment contract is registered. Therefore if there are any violations with conditions stipulated in the contract or any other issue negatively affecting the worker, the Sri Lankan authorities are at a stronger position to defend the worker. As long as the working conditions are positive the employee will not feel the importance of this. But when trouble arrives it does help to protect their rights.

    Drafting a sub policy on reintegration of the returnees   

    What is the progress in the reintegration programme for those who return from foreign jobs, especially from unskilled and semi-skilled categories? 

    We are in the process of drafting a sub policy on reintegration of the returnees back in to their communities. We have a policy on labour migration but as the number of people returning from  foreign employment is increasing, there should be a Govt policy to address their issues as well. If we manage to finalize it soon, Sri Lanka will be the first country in South Asia to have a Sub Policy on Reintegration of Returnees. That policy will include all segments considering financial advice, healthcare and welfare of the families of these returnees. To those who wish to migrate again for foreign employment, there will be skill upgrading programmes empowering them to go for a better choice of work.

    The Sri Lankan labour market does not provide enough manpower to ongoing development work. There is a dearth in the Sri Lankan labour market. And the number of people migrating as semi-skilled and unskilled is on the rise. How can this be addressed? 

    This depends on the demand and the supply. If the industries who are in need of labour are able to pay the workers a salary similar or at least close to what they are capable of earning through foreign employment, then people will get attracted to local job opportunities. It will be more beneficial for them to work within the country rather going abroad leaving behind their families. Until this demand is met, it is difficult to stop people migrating for foreign employment.    And in particular, people migrating for jobs in the skilled category earn a very high salary compared to what is offered back home. Even in the new venues that are opened for Sri Lankans in countries like Israel, the jobs in the agriculture sector, offer a very high salary. Sri Lankans who are skilled in agricultural work, can earn a decent amount within a season which is usually for 6 – 7 months. They can earn a salary more than an executive officer in the public sector. This is a major economic benefit to those people and their families.    Political authorities also question us asking what could be done. Nothing else could be done but to match this demand. We cannot stop people’s movement seeking better economic prosperity.

    Source: Dhaneshi Yatawara, Illegal migrants mainly face issues, Daily MIrror 17-06-13

  • Taken for Granted: Legitimacy and Women’s’ Rights in Sri Lanka –Imesha Madhubani

     ..Uppannee piyaage nama liyana theeruwe..Piyaage nama irak une kohomada amme..”

    Even though the biological relationship between a mother and her child has been accepted, the legal framework of legitimacy of the child is based on the nature of the relationship between the parents at the time the child was conceived. The father is considered to be the natural guardian of a child, being entitled to bear the maintenance, health and welfare of the child. Thus, he becomes a decisive factor in determining the legitimacy of the child. The nature of the parents’ relationship and its legal validity plays a pivotal role here. If the parents were unmarried when the child was born, s/he will be considered as an illegitimate child. These children can be legitimized afterwards if the parents get married. But, what is the solution left for mothers who are unable to marry the father of her child? The question remains.

    One may argue that the presumption of legitimacy prevailing in the Evidence Ordinance can be taken up as conclusive proof. But, the fact of the matter is that this presumption is rebuttable, and the ways in which it can be rebutted are also given in the Ordinance itself, where the male should simply prove that he did not have access or an opportunity to have sexual intercourse with the female. The relief sought for illegitimate children is therefore simulated and cannot be used as a panacea for every matter.

    How the mother is affected

    It is not only a child that will be deprived of equality based on his or her legitimacy, but the mother also has to face numerous hardships. Children born out of wedlock are unable to receive admission to a government school in Sri Lanka, and in many cases, these mothers are not financially capable of sending their children to private or international schools either.

    She may not be given a job opportunity, and can even be rejected by her own family. She is considered to be of bad character and shameless to bear a child without a father. Some women have to discontinue their education and career if they are unable to balance it with raising a child on their own.

    The blame does not stop after her pregnancy. Sadly, these women sometimes have to go through very harsh words and hints of doctors and nurses when they go to the hospital for childbirth. The woman is not to bear the sole responsibility and be subjected to defamation.

    What most of us do not think about is the fact that these women could be innocent victims of dishonest men, who are able to creep through the loopholes of the law and survive from the social pressure as well. Equality is a Fundamental Right of every citizen in the country.

    No woman should be deprived of it merely because she is left with a child without a lawfully wedded husband. For all that matters, we should encourage these women and help them win their life goals while raising the child, not otherwise.

    How the children are treated

    These children are frowned upon by society, without an end. They are targeted and discriminated at school and the society as well. One should think twice before an innocent child is inhumanely discriminated for an act he is not responsible for. We should not continue to live in the paradox where we appreciate children to be the future of our society and country, while at the same time, discriminating him and breaking his personality and confidence to thrive as a human being worth living.

    The irony

    It is apparent that the conservative societies who granted us these laws have themselves changed their own legal framework to protect the rights of both, the mother and the child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Sri Lanka has for long been a signatory clearly states that children should not be discriminated and deprived of equality, due to their birth or other status, meaning legitimacy. But, it is sad to see, we as a nation continue to cling on to inequitable and prejudicial laws that affect both women and children in our society.

    Many women’s rights activists argue that in a world where even homosexuality has been legally accepted and where the concept of living together prior to marriage has been openly welcome, such patriarchal and feudalistic ideologies should be kept away from the minds of people.

    Time to move on!

    There is an epigram within our folklore that once a mother elephant gives birth to a baby, every female elephant in the herd starts lactating. Similarly, a mother lactates solely because of the birth of the child, regardless of whether the child is legitimate or not. Motherhood has been celebrated and worshipped throughout our civilization. But, what these outdated concepts tell us is to frown upon the same motherhood on illogical reasoning.

    Married or not, a woman is able to take care of her child, though she may be comparatively incapacitated than a mother with the husband’s financial support. It is society itself that discourages these women and purposely makes them vulnerable and marginalized. We live in a world where many illegitimate children have been born and bred under the shadow of strong mothers. It is therefore time that our society takes the initiative to eradicate these unreasonable and senseless concepts from our mind-set and give priority to the well-being of women and children of the country.

  • Women, Girls & Pregnant Women & Children Worst Affected By Floods & Landslides

    As of 1 June, about 658,490 people across 15 districts have been affected by floods and landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains which began last week. Of the affected people, it is estimated that at least 150,000 are women and girls of reproductive age, 7,600 are pregnant women and over 189,000 children are affected by the disaster.

    Source: Asian Tribune quoting UN Resident Coordinator for Sri Lanka


    A declaration of commitment to the National Partnership to End Violence Against Children in Sri Lanka by 2030 was signed on the 2nd of June in Colombo. This is an initiative of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs.

  • Distressed Housemaids Return Home from the Middle East

    A group of women who went to the Middle East seeking employment have returned to the island after being subjected to various hardships abroad. Accordingly, 52 women have been brought back to Sri Lanka from Kuwait, with the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Employment.

    According to the Ministry of Foreign Employment, a second group of about 70 is scheduled to arrive on the island in the evening today (24), bringing the total to 122.

    Source: Ayshwarya Yapa, Adaderana, May 24, 2017.

  • Embassy Officials Rescue SL Woman held Captive by Saudi Employer

    A  Sri Lankan woman, who was held in captive in Saudi Arabia by her employer, was released by the officials of Sri Lankan embassy in Riyadh, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) said today. W.W Indrakanthi – a resident of Kandalama road, Dambulla who is the victim and her employer were summoned to the police station in Diriyah, Riyadh on Monday (22) for investigations. SLBFE said that SL embassy in Riyadh third Secretary W M S P Illangokoon has initiated the necessary investigations in this regard. The victim has gone abroad in 2015 as a housemaid on a two year contract. However the investigations have revealed that the employer was keeping her by force more than 2 months after her service contract expired in March 2017. The employer had forced her to donate a kidney to her wife who is suffering from a kidney ailment. (Thilanka Kanakarathna) –

    Source: Daily Mirror, 2017-05-23,

  • Sri Lanka’­s middle-income status preserved by housemaids and unskilled labour

    Migrant worker remittances have mainly contributed to the surplus in the nation’s secondary income account which is earned by unskilled and housemaid categories, the Central Bank’s Annual Report 2016 reveals.

    CBSL Annual Report further notes that the surplus in the secondary income account mainly backed by these worker remittances has helped in cushioning the deficit in the trade and primary income accounts of the current account .

    According to statistics housemaids and unskilled workers account for 56 per cent of total Sri Lankan expatriate workers. Worker remittances which account for the majority of inflows to the secondary income account as the key source of private transfers have grown at a modest rate of 3.7 per cent to US dollars7,242 million, as against the decline of 0.5 per cent observed in 2015.

    The Central Bank, however, states that a shift in skill levels of migrant labour can be observed over the years due to the steps taken in a strategic direction by the authorities since 2008 towards the concept of “Safe, Skilled Migration”.

    Still, according to 2016 foreign employment statistics only 2.7 per cent of worker departures were under the professional categories, which is a marginal improvement compared to 2.4 per cent recorded in 2015.

    Meanwhile, middle level manpower categories have increased by 12.2 per cent although departures in all other categories recorded a decline in 2016 due to the global economic slowdown.

    Although a notable increase in departures to South Korea was also observed in 2016, still 97 per cent of these departures com-prised unskilled workers.

    These developments reflect the scope for continued efforts towards encouraging and increasing ‘Safe, Skilled Migration’ of skilled categories pushing for a decline in housemaid and unskilled categories. Such efforts will lead to a healthy trend of inward remittances from skilled categories, the Central Bank states.



    A national centre has been set up in the Kilinochchi district to provide support services to widows and female headed households in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.


  • Are women adequately represented in Parliament?

    Another election, another government beckons us. As is always the case with us Lankans, we have found ourselves besotted with the race. Each one has his or her favourites and now and then we have heard lip service paid to the usual issues.
     Many a time I have heard the importance of adequate female representation in the parliament but it seems to be limited to just that – talk. Sure enough, we do have some women among the ranks of legislatures but whether they represent female interests, adequately or not, remains the big question mark

    Daily Mirror Article – Readmore

  • Domestic Workers Challenge Gazette Notification

    The Domestic Workers Union has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the omission of local domestic workers from the gazette notification that was published on January 18. They state that the minimum wage for those drawing a monthly salary should be Rs. 10,000 and the minimum daily wage should be Rs. 400. According to the Joint Secretary of the Domestic Workers Union Ananthi Sivasubramanium there are over 100,000 domestic workers employed throughout the country. The Union was formed in 2012 and has a membership over 2,000 registered domestic workers. By allowing the registration of the union to take place, the domestic trade has been recognised as an accepted profession, entitling them to the minimum wage stipulated in the gazette notification said Sivasubramanium.

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