Sri Lanka will cut the number of maids it sends to the Middle East, a labor official said, citing increased complaints of abuse by women migrant workers.
"We want to reduce the number of women migrant workers mainly because of complaints we received from those in Middle East countries," Kingsley Ranawaka, the chairman of Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment told Reuters.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have been the main markets for over 700,000 Sri Lankan maids who have increasingly complained of rights abuses.
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) said it had received over 3,400 complaints from female workers in the first half of 2008, mainly from the Gulf region, for harassment, breach of contract and unpaid or underpaid salaries.
The bureau said it received complaints for 577 cases of breach of contract and 479 of harassments in the first half of 2008, including cases of sexual abuse and physical violence.
"We want to discourage female migrant workers and promote males. Also now we want to deviate workers from the Middle East to other markets like the European Union, Canada, Australia, South Korea, and Japan," Ranawaka told Reuters late on Tuesday.
Despite the increased complaints of abuse, around 100,000 Sri Lankan women still make their way to the Gulf region every year to work as domestic helps.
Sri Lanka received over $2.5 billion from workers' remittances last year, the main foreign exchange earner after export earnings from garments. The country's $27-billion economy has been badly hit by a 25-year civil war.
Ranawaka said Sri Lanka planned to increase migrant workers in the semi-skilled and skilled labor category, while reducing the number of maids without affecting worker remittances. He did not elaborate.
He said the government was also considering tough action against labour agents and could blacklist employers who abused the country's workers.
Gulf Arab countries, which have small national populations, have for decades relied on temporary migrant workers to fill jobs created by rapid, oil-fuelled growth.
Women from Asian countries including Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines work as maids and nannies for families across the Middle East and in wealthy Asian states.
In May this year, Human Rights Watch had slammed a Saudi Arabian court decision to drop charges against an employer accused of abusing an Indonesian maid so severely she lost her fingers and toes.The maid had been beaten daily and forced to work long hours without rest for her Saudi employers.
Another story of the same nature
The Sri Lankan government is seeking to encourage women migrants to look for jobs in European countries instead of in the Gulf because of persistent complaints of mistreatment and poor working conditions.
Over 100,000 women workers go abroad to work as house maids every year, but the Sri Lankan government is now looking at ways for women workers to acquire a higher grade of skills to make them eligible for short-term work contracts in a new set of countries.
The Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment, the nodal agency for overseas workers, plans to direct migrant job seekers to countries in the European Union, Canada, Australia, South Korea and Japan where there is a need for semi-skilled and skilled workers.
The main destinations for the women workers have been Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. As the skill shortages are likely to increase in the European countries, temporary migration of workers is being seen as a solution to the labor shortages there.
The Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment received over 3,000 complaints last year from Sri Lankan women working as housemaids for breach of contract, harassment and unpaid or underpaid wages. Earlier this year, the Sri Lanka government had decreed a rise in pay for household workers by 15 percent in their work contracts, but the complaints of harassment and non-payment of full dues have continued.
The continuing round of complaints is forcing the Sri Lankan authorities to look for different means of livelihood for women migrants. Sri Lankan women workers send back a significant part of the $2.5 billion that Sri Lanka receives as remittances from overseas migrant workers. Remittances are a major foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka.
According to Saritha, who returned after a two-year stint in Singapore, because of the difficult conditions in Sri Lanka, families had to depend on money sent by relatives.
Destinations like Singapore and Hong Kong require additional training and skills, but working conditions are better there for household help than in the Gulf countries, Saritha explained, as wages depend on the amount of work to be done, the size of the house, number of residents, the hours of work and the maid's experience.
Saritha would not like her younger sister, Vanitha, to go to the Gulf countries as a maid though the labour agent has offered her a good deal.
"There are too many stories about ill-treatment and not paying full wages," she said, adding: "I can pay for training for Vanitha from my savings so she gets a better job."
Sri Lanka already has training institutes like the Mount Lavinia school for maids in Colombo which prepare women migrants for jobs as house maids in different countries, giving them practical training and lessons in cultural sensitivity.
All women going to countries in the Gulf region have to take a basic languages course and learn cooking and handling household appliances. Several countries in Europe require nurses and healthcare providers for tending their ageing population.
There is a shortage of caregivers for a large section of elderly people who live on their own but whose mobility is restricted due to age. A special training course can prepare prospective migrants with requisite training and certification to go to Europe on fixed time contracts.
Source: Freshnew.in, firstname.lastname@example.org