Call to shift foreign employment to Far East
Sri Lanka should shift its migrant workers from the Middle East to
the Far East markets, said Professor of Economics, Ryukoku University,
Japan, Hisashi Nakamura at a seminar on 'New Directions in Sri Lanka
Worker Policy' organised by the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo
He said that there are a large number of Sri Lankan workers in Japan
and most of them were referred to as undocumented migrant workers. “In
the 1980s and 1990s there were over 5,000 Sri Lankans and I have met
them and interviewed them. According to immigration officials of Japan,
many of them had supported political movements in Sri Lanka and they
were unable to return . There are Sri Lankan Tamils organisations as
well in Japan but they are not like those in European countries.”
Another group of Sri Lankans who travel to Japan are young women who
marry Japanese farmers and make a living there. However, Sri Lankans are
still new to the Japanese bridal market. Earlier the women were from the
Philippines and Thailand.
There are opportunities in the Japanese labour market for skilled
care-workers. Employment opportunities in Japan are mainly from
To tap the opportunities in this market there should be agreements
between governments and programs should be launched to train workers and
develop skills including language and support offices should be set up.
This matter has been discussed but no positive steps have been taken in
this regard, he said.
Prof. Nakamura said that Sri Lanka has huge economic benefits from
migrant workers. The annual foreign remittance is equal to nine percent
of the GDP or ¼ of the total exports and they account for 15 percent of
the total employment. However, migration does not help poverty
alleviation in Sri Lanka.
Using his study in the Colombo suburban areas and some outdated
statistics, he pointed out that earnings by Sri Lankan housemaids in the
Middle East is far less and the workers were undergoing hardship.
Housemaids get poor salaries, but have to work long hours and are
involved in a huge domestic workload of large families. In some
instances their wages are less than the minimum wage. There are
instances of delayed payment or non payment of salaries, house arrests,
sexual harassment and other atrocities are common complaints. Most Sri
Lankan workers imprisoned in the Middle East were kept under fabricated
charges, he said.
Migration workers in the Middle East do not save much and as a result
end up being in the same economic status as they were before. Therefore,
now the time is right for foreign employment to be re-directed to the
Far East, he said.
Domestic workers who seek employment in the Middle East, pay Rs.
40,000-50,000 to the local agents and the agents too get a commission of
around $ 50-300 per worker from the employer. The demand for domestic
workers is increasing in the Middle Eastern countries due to rapid
population growth and accumulated wealth with increasing oil prices.
For instance, population growth in Saudi Arabia is 5.5 percent and
the supply of domestic workers is mainly from Asian countries. In
addition to domestic workers, Sri Lankan migrant workers are working in
garment factories in the Middle East as well.