Sri Lanka announced yesterday its plans to reduce the deployment of housemaids in the Middle East, including in the Kingdom.
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), which is the statutory article body set up to look after the welfare of the country’s overseas workers, aims to reduce women migrating overseas to work as domestic aides by 80 to 90 percent by 2020.
“We do not approve of women going overseas to work as domestic aides. However, we cannot put a complete end to it immediately. Therefore, we have launched a number of programs to upgrade their skills and find better employment opportunities for them in specialized vocations,” SLBFE Chairman Amal Senalankadikara told Arab News yesterday from Colombo.
According to Senalankadikara, Sri Lanka’s migrant labor force has been dominated by female domestic aides (especially to the Middle East), for many years. Although this category of workers have earned billions of rupees as foreign revenue, the chairman pointed out that labor experts believe their migration abroad has caused social problems.
“We have witnessed several broken homes, since mothers work abroad,” said Senalankadikara, adding that this causes several social and cultural problems in society.
In Saudi Arabia, there is a large percentage of housemaids among the island’s 550,000 workers. A small percentage of these female workers face problems such as harassment, nonpayment of their salaries and failure to honor work contracts due to a lack of employer-employee rapport.
The number of runaway maids in the Kingdom is limited to 12 per day. The Sri Lankan Embassy gets around 10 runaway housemaids a day, while its consulate in Jeddah receives around two a day.
According to reports, some of the cases are settled at the missions through negotiations with the respective sponsors, while in other cases the housemaids are repatriated. There are also sporadic incidents of deaths due to murder, suicides and industrial accidents.
In 2011 out of 262,960 Sri Lankan workers who traveled overseas for work, 107,816 were housemaids. These figures slightly decreased in 2012, as out of the 187,908 foreign workers, only 86,220 were employed as domestic aides.
A few years ago housemaids constituted around 80 percent of the total Sri Lankan migrant worker population. However, according to the latest figures this has dropped to less than 40 percent.
Colombo’s efforts to send more skilled workers, especially males is slowly gathering momentum. In 2011, for the first time male employees seeking work abroad outnumbered females, 135,810 to 127,090 respectively. The trend continued in 2012 as the number of male migrant workers reached 95,287 as of October, while the figures for their female counterparts stood at 92,621.
According to Senalankadikara, many initiatives have been proposed for the new year, including training prospective migrant workers in specialized vocations with the intention of increasing the percentage of skilled workers while discouraging unskilled workers from going abroad.
Authorities in their bid to discourage unskilled categories have made National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) level 3, compulsory for Sri Lankans seeking skilled jobs abroad. Moreover, they have introduced tailor-made training courses according to the nature of jobs, countries and the requirements of the employers.
The SLBFE is also planning to improve foreign language proficiency for overseas job seekers. They are in the process of recruiting teachers to teach languages, including foreign professionals.
“Some of the employment avenues the SLBFE is currently looking to promote among Lankan females instead of the housemaid profession are employment in the hospitality, health, and sales industries,” Senalankadikara said. The SLBFE recently signed an agreement with an international company to establish an accredited nurses training school and a hospital to train health sector workers.
Meanwhile, migrant worker remittances at the end of 2012 are expected to surpass an unprecedented $ 6 billion. The SLBFE is aiming for $ 10 billion by 2020, with more emphasis on skilled categories.
In the first eight months of this year, Sri Lanka’s migrant workers remitted $ 3.9 billion, which is an increase of 15.2 percent compared to the same period in 2011. With nearly 1.7 million Sri Lankans working abroad, their total remittances amounted to $ 5.14 billion in 2011. This is equivalent to 8.2 percent of Sri Lanka’s GDP, 25 percent of the government’s total revenue and 35 percent of total foreign exchange earnings. Migrant workers constitute 17 percent of the working population.