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Sunday, 7 April 2013

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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 last week.

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 institutional employers.

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Using his study in the Colombo suburban areas and some outdated statistics, he pointed out that earnings by Sri Lankan housemaids in the Middle East is far less and the workers were undergoing hardship.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.

 

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