Beware of errant job agents:
SLBFE warns those seeking foreign employment
Minister Dilan Perera
Sri Lankan migrant workers at the airport
Female migrant workers from Sri Lanka
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) is in the news
again. The last few months there was an increase in the number reports
detailing injustices towards Sri Lankan workers abroad, especially in
the Middle-East and the SLBFE is on constant alert to investigate. Some
reports are accurate and some are baseless and in most cases the job
agency is blamed. On the flipside is the SLBFE strategising enough to
protect prospective workers from the grip of exploitation, equip Lankan
workers to fit the overseas job market and draft employment agreements
Yes, says the Minister of Overseas Employment Promotion and Welfare
Dilan Perera. "We will not ignore any report, I will deploy staff to
find the truth. It is my duty to do that and I would like to ideally
bring the reporting system to a point where the authorities alert the
media of such incidents first and not vice versa. I appreciate media
support immensely but I think we will not be at optimal operation unless
we achieve such pattern in communication. Conversely the recent incident
reported from Iraq where 19 Sri Lankan workers were not paid wages,
cannot be dealt with employment policies. The fact that they were
employed illegally means that we do not have the right to discuss terms.
We can only counter it through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and treat
them as Sri Lankan citizens stranded in another country, not as Sri
Lankan workers who are exploited overseas he said
Chairman of the SLBFE, Kingsley Ranawaka told the Sunday Observer
that they are committed to protecting workers from errant job agents.
"The easiet and best course of action for those seeking foreign
employment is to contact our offices islandwide. We will give you
sufficient and appropriate information that you need to make your
decision and provide you with guidance to find employment opportunities.
Those who cannot make the time to visit our offices can call 1919 and
check if the job agent who is facilitating your overseas employment is
registered with the SLBFE. If this is not done, one automatically runs
the risk of being misled and exploited he said.
When queried about the government handling charges mentioned on
overseas job advertisements Ranawaka stated, after an amendment made to
the foreign employment act in 2009, it is mandatory that the handling
charges are published because these charges are approved by the
government and for Middle-Eastern employment, workers must only pay the
registration fees. This was done to increase transparency and to ensure
that prospective workers pay no more than what is mentioned. We can only
assist workers who legally go to work abroad and going through errant
job agents can hinder our involvement in the event of any adversities.
Deputy General Manager, Training and Recruitment of the SLBFE Mangala
Randeniya says that over 23 centres islandwide train approximately 4500
job seekers at any given time under various categories. Domestic workers
and care givers are given prominence due to the high demand.
"Apart from this, we have a seven day refresher training for those
with outdated work experience and a five days mandatory training on safe
migration and common competencies for all Sri Lankan workers who travel
overseas for employment purposes. Airpot officials can refuse your
departure if they trace that you have not completed this course as it
details the basic aspects of living abroad, legality of migrating and
cultural adjustments. The training can cost a nominal Rs 3000 for a 30
day program but the contents of it can be of enormous use not only while
working overseas but also after returning to homesoil" he said.
When asked about the emphasis on registration before departure,
Randeniya states that the SLBFE can only intervene to resolve disputes
if workers are registered.
The SLBFE's cash flow is also determined by these registration fees
and it is important that we make registered workers understand that they
earn the right of our intervention. Besides, when one is not registered
it is unfair to invest funds collected from registered workers because
some disputes can cost huge amounts which outwieghs the registration
fees he said.
Whilst discussing the involvement of SLBFE in orchestrating overseas
job arrangements, we asked what strategies they have devised to avoid
excessive brain drain.
"We are not denying that this a high probability but in the job
markets we dominate, the demand is for low skilled workers. The process
is intricate, we cater to the market honouring the sensitivities of the
National Employment Policies of various regions. Some countries do not
open their job markets to high skilled labour from overseas. However,
our performance overall has been good. With the Employment Permit System
(EPS) with South Korea our workers receive a technological advantage.
They have to keep in par with what their employers require, in the
process they acquire the same level of knowledge. Once they return to
the country, they are able to impart their knowledge to others. In such
instances brain gain is evident as opposed to brain drain" he said.
"We also monitor workers who registered with us and write to them
when they near their expiry of contract and be available to help them
with alternative job opportunities. This is not only done to ensure
their return but also to make sure that they do not overstay their visas
thereby becoming illegal workers where we are unable to help further. I
encourage everyone to be documented overseas workers as your rights
increase significantly when you serve under that category. Once you
become undocumented, the avenues of assistance you can have reduces
drastically" he said.
"Most importantly, workers must understand that all these job
opportunities strengthen the bi-lateral ties between our country and the
employer's country. Maintaining our reputation as a hardworking and
legally compliant workforce is imperative so we are looked at as a
responsible labour force and winning better work agreements from
existing countries and prospective countries. We are available to help
our workers, reach greater heights but those who violate agreements make
it very difficult for us and successive workers to secure good jobs
overseas" he said.