Migration Act for Sri Lanka in the offering
Posted on September 9th, 2010

Sarath Wijesinghe – (Solicitor- Attorney-at-Law – LL.M (London)

“Nailing the Nailing”

 No doubt that nail ridden 49 year old Ariyawahthie’s horrified saga is inhuman and cruel.  Doctors in Sri Lanka have detected 24 nails ridden in various parts of her body allegedly pierced and inserted forcibly by the sponsor and the wife with the help of the daughter in most cruel and inhuman way.  This is an act of inhuman degrading torture which no human being will tolerate.  She has left the beautiful country and the caring family for the betterment of the rest of her family. 

 The rest is now public knowledge as it is the talk of the town and the world over. It should be our wish that this isolated incident has never taken place. But unfortunately the media and medical reports are convincing. Incidentally a lecturer from Ruhana University has given a telephone interview to”Gulf” that the injuries could have been self inflicted. Whoever makes such decisive statements remotely should be careful of the impact on the individuals and the country as a whole.

 As a result of this statement the spirit of the agitation has died down showing how fast news fly and how effective current Web transmissions are. It is time to think of a short and long term strategy to avoid similar horrifying incidents in future.

Those in foreign employment worldwide are around 150 million and send 350 to 680 million annually to respective countries. United Arab Emiratis has provided 250,000 employment opportunities for Sri Lankans and Saudi Arab has employed 400,000 house keepers. Now foreign labour is emerged as our main income. It is no longer Tea, rubber, Coconut or traditional items.

Fortunately we have heavily invested on education and what we earn is from our educated citizens toiling themselves serving both and motherland and the host country. It is the duty of the government in power to take all preventive measures for their well being and the Sri Lankan foreign missions abroad and the Foreign Employment Bureau which comes under the Ministry of External Affairs are geared to look after them. Steps will be taken to nail down any nailing or similar incidents learning form mistakes and experiences gained from various parts of the world.

 Human Migration and Slavery

 Human migration has taken place thousands of years ago.  Migration is a physical movement by humans from one area to another. It could from country to country or within the country. 150 million employees are employed out of their countries. Voluntary migration includes labour trade etc.  During the Roman period (Code of HAMMURABI 1760 BC) slave was considered the property of the master.  Master even had the power to kill the slave and lived at the will of the master.  There is forced migration which includes ethnic cleansing that took place mainly after the aftermath of major wars. 

In slavery the subject   has no rights at all.  They have no right to life and to possess any property.  Currently slavery is in existence in a different form especially in countries where the domestic law is closed to the world. The west is non intervenient on labour and human rights due to the power of wealth in the host countries.

Countries such as Pakistan there is the practice of bonded labour where the entire family is bonded to the “Saminder” the powerful land owners. Unfair labour is   common worldwide.  International Labour Organization was formed in 1919 by Treaty of Versailles, to liberate the suppressed human beings in slavery in various forms and to fight unfair labour. 

 International Federation of Trade Union was formed in 1919.  Currently the news in the lime light is the nailing of a Sri Lankan lady employed in the Middle East. Unfortunately and ironically Housekeepers (not domestic servants they were commonly named) are not covered by labour laws in the Middle East.

 One should not forget the pleasant stories despite horrified incidents, which we pray are rare and isolated. There are good employers who are kind and caring to employees without whom they cannot manage the affairs. For example in the United Arab Emirates 80% the population are expatriates mainly on employment as against the locals and the country will be at a grinding halt without the foreign labour including 250,000 Sri Lankans in various important positions.

Even housekeepers are necessary for many households and family clusters. It is not everywhere they are mistreated- especially in prosperous UAE – the wonder of the Middle East fifth and country free to engage in business.

 Forced Labour

   Forced labor is a practice that is exacted involuntarily and under the force of penalty or force employee is prevent from terminating their employment on their discretion.  The employment is involuntary because employees have no freedom for movement as the practice is that the travel documents are in the possession of the employer where the employee is not protected by the respective Labour Law of the country. It is heartening to note that steps are being taken to enter into agreements and bring international legislation to prevent abuse of power and ill-treatment of the employees.

 One might think that this is an isolated and a rare incident which is not happening frequently.  But the reality is somewhat complicated.  The main income of Sri Lanka today is by the sweat of the expatriates who serve both their birth and host country. The enormous number in employment is the reason why a full-scale control and supervision is difficult. But a clear and organized system should be adopted and the pleasant news is that it is in the offering. Those in employment out of the country transmit valuable funds to their respective countries to cover the deficit and to manage the affairs of the Nation. 

 There are 1.4 million employees in the Middle East and 400,000 in Saudi Arabia.  There are 1.5 million expatriates in Saudi Arabia and 196,000 in Singapore.  The funds remitted to Sri Lanka in 2007 have been Rs.350-650 billion.  These figures are rough calculations but the figure show how important it is for the labour producing countries to use oil rich fields for their existence.  On the contrary labour producing countries are benefitted by sending labour for their development. 

The labour that is sent is of different kinds, professionals, skilled, semi-skilled labour and housekeepers.  It is not morally and culturally proper to send our ladies to foreign countries for employment.  It destabilizes our culture and our families.  There are cases where labour producing countries are benefitted from the hard earned money.  In the UAE there are 250,000 Sri Lankans out of which majority are housekeepers.  The housemaid is not the correct designation for them as they are housekeepers who maintain the house and look after the children and not the family.  They were ladies and young girls who were protected by parents and husbands and lived in very secluded protected cultural atmosphere. 

 Once they are sent some are abused, imprisoned, raped, without food, defenseless and alone.  The employers pay a substantial amount to the agent of the host country through the agent in the respective country.  Fortunately there is a balancing exercise and there are Foreign Missions and the Foreign Employment Bureau available for their rescue.  These two institutions are performing an excellent job within their capacity but the enormous amount of labour force and the loopholes in the structure has allowed incidents such as the nailing incident which are disturbing and horrifying. 

It is time for us to think back and restructure the entire process of labour movement and management. Government is seriously considering having full and further control providing female labour to other countries.  Either it should be completely stopped or regularized.  Many countries have given it up including India, Pakistan whereas Philippine and Sri Lanka still provides labour to other countries.  We have got rid of terrorism and leading in the path of achieving the goal to be the wonder of Asia. 

 It is time for us to provide the mothers and the girls’ sufficient facilities in Sri Lanka to discourage them from going abroad facing risky employment.  We have had a difficult period for the last 30 years and it is time to adjust and correct ourselves.

  Therefore the Government is seriously considering streamlining the entire migration process in line with international standards.  Philippine has set an example to the migration workers by enacting Migration Workers Overseas Philippine Act of 1995 in which protection for all the migration workers are codified.  Now that we have billions of migration workers worldwide it is time for us to enact a similar Act and also take all the measures to prevent even isolated incidents which are a scar to the system and our reputation. 

 We have been reputed as one of the beneficial countries with high rate of literacy and intellectualism.  We have been rooted as one of the best tourist destinations.  Our growth rate is successful and our stock market is rising day by day.  Therefore one should not be disheartened by the adverse propaganda due to the isolated incidents for which preventive measures are being taken steadily.  The respective missions have safe houses as safe havens for ladies in trouble which need lot of restructuring.

Some job agents who are responsible for the “Shams” should be thoroughly warned, punished as the main culprits of the current pathetic situation and sorry state of housekeepers, because their main concern is to extract money at any cost.

  Even at the cost of the lives of poor labourers.  It is heartening to note that the Government is going to take strict measures on those culprits and short and long term solutions are on the way including new legislation based on international standards. Migration act in the offering will be a safe haven for the millions of Sri Lankan labour worldwide to use as a vehicle to bring about solutions to their personal and labour issues in respective countries.

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