Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 5 October 2014





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Policy changes in ME countries:

Migrant workers to reap more benefits

There are important positive policy changes in Middle Eastern (ME) countries which would benefit Sri Lanka's migrant workers, said an expert of the migrant worker sector, L.K. Ruhunuge. The new policies target protection, social security and wage issues of migrant workers.

Sri Lankan migrant workers in Middle Eastern countries especially Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar can expect better working conditions and labour rights, said Ruhunuge, a former general manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE).

He said that in the UAE, a new permit contract agreement has been introduced for migrant workers ensuring their rights and security. It will give specific benefits for workers and end unfair exploitation.

In Saudi Arabia, a bilateral labour recruitment agreement has been introduced and Sri Lanka signed the agreement in January. Under this agreement the passport and travel documents of the workers are considered as property owned by the worker. Earlier it was under the custody of the employer and the salaries of domestic workers will also be remitted to their bank accounts, he said.

This agreement covers 12 categories of domestic workers, including housemaids, drivers, cleaners and waiters employed by individuals. It includes provisions to address most of the issues faced by migrant workers.

Itt consists of provisions such as: * contracts should be drafted in a language that is understood by the worker, * the worker must be informed of what to do and whom to turn to in case of an emergency, * workers must be made aware of the facilities available to him or her especially on health and personal safety, and the employer must agree to terminate the service contract after a maximum of two years if the employee wishes to leave his or her place of employment.

According to the agreement all domestic workers should be given a standard employment contract which necessitates the employer to provide minimum wages, working hours and paid holidays. Saudi Arabia also signed a similar agreement with India and Philippines in January.

Ruhunuge said that in Saudi Arabia, the labour recruitment system will also be changed. Recruitment is now done by over 200 recruiting agencies. The government has ordered the formation of 18 mega recruitment companies by merging the agencies. These companies have the authority to bring in foreign labour and the responsibility of ensuring the rights and the protection of the workers.

In Qatar, migrant workers will have have the flexibility to return to their homeland after termination of the service contract. The employer cannot restrict the workers and the they can inform the emigration authorities and leave the country. Earlier in some instances employers did not allow the workers to leave even after the completion of their service contracts, he said.

Qatar has faced criticism over violation of labour rights and human rights of migrant workers. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said that migrant construction workers, working at the 2022 FIFA World Cup infrastructure projects are exploited as they are working without safety. The ITUC has called upon the authorities to improve the safety of the workers.

These are important positive policy changes in the Middle East and there are also important political and economic changes in the region.

The positive changes will further increase demand for migrant workers. The demand for male workers mainly in the construction has been increasing inQatar, Ruhunuge said. In the UAE, some construction projects have started targeting an international export exhibition to be held in 2020 and as a result demand for male workers in UAE is also increasing.

In general, demographic factors in the Middle East too favour an increase in demand for domestic workers. The large young population in these countries depend on migrant domestic workers after marriage, he said. An official at the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment said that there is a positive development in migrant worker welfare in Middle Eastern countries but some of them are still at discussion level.



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