Domestic workers

Discrimination against domestic workers | Print edition

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What a foolish ploy – the plan to ban Sri Lankan domestic workers from traveling abroad if they haven’t sent funds through official channels during a previous period of employment! That’s what my friend, HR Expert HR Perera, better known as HR, was referring to when we spoke on Thursday morning.

Fortunately, Foreign Labor and Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara resigned earlier this week as his ill-considered proposal would have sparked numerous human rights petitions had the authorities followed the plan.

According to the proposal, “the amount of dollars sent through legitimate channels into the country during that person’s previous employment abroad would be taken into consideration and the laws would be changed to grant only those who have legitimately sent funds to the country such eligibility to go abroad for employment”.

“What a wacky idea,” exclaimed HR. “Who advises these ministers? It’s unfair and it’s sure to backfire on us,” he said.

“Absolutely, you cannot prevent anyone from traveling abroad for work, vacation or business. It is a violation of the Constitution on a citizen’s right to travel unless, of course, that person was prevented by a court from traveling by confiscating her passport due to an ongoing criminal case,” I said.

Yes, remittances are dropping sharply, but that is no reason to deprive an individual of the right and freedom to travel abroad, HR said. It remains to be seen whether this scheme has been discussed with the Central Bank or not.

According to the latest workers’ remittances figures, $274.3 million was remitted last month by workers, compared to $478.4 million in June 2021, while the cumulative figure from January to June 2022 of $1,609.9 million was a 51% decline from $3,324.4 million. recorded during the same period of 2021. Since the emergence of a buoyant market in the unofficial dollar rate, the level of remittances fell in 2021 to $5.2 billion from $6.2 billion dollars in 2020.

The Central Bank’s annual report for 2021 indicates that a notable recovery in remittances is expected in 2022 with the sharp depreciation of the exchange rate since March 2022, as well as the increasing number of migrant workers leaving for employment abroad. foreign. But as of June 2022, remittance figures through official channels are still low and unlikely to reach 2021 levels.

Authorities and the Central Bank are grappling with the dilemma of declining remittances, with workers preferring to send money home through informal or unofficial channels called Undiyal or Hawala. The more than 50% drop in remittances means that amount was sent to families and loved ones in Sri Lanka through informal channels that still offer a slightly higher exchange rate. Currently, the US Dollar is trading at Rs. 366-Rs. 368 for 1 dollar, while in the unofficial market it is between Rs. 20 to Rs. 40 more per dollar depending on the amount of money exchanged.

In March 2022, authorities allowed the rupee to float from a holding level of Rs. 230 per dollar. It then rapidly increased to over Rs. 360 per dollar over the past three months.

While the plan to bar workers from going overseas – if they are found to have avoided sending money through official channels from a previous term – was bad news in the migratory route, there was also good news for this sector.

The Cabinet, last month on the proposal of Minister Nanayakkara, decided to partially lift the mandatory Family Background Report (FBR) requirement, thus helping more women to emigrate for overseas employment.

Previously, the FBR prohibited women with children under five from traveling abroad, which led to widespread abuse of this provision. Many, in desperation, used unofficial means to obtain RBF from local authorities.

The new decision allows women with children over the age of two to go abroad, but still prohibits women with children under the age of two from migrating to find employment.

The move was welcomed by rights activists. Dr Bilesha Weeraratne, a senior researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies and one of Sri Lanka’s leading researchers on migration, said the decision was long overdue and a move welcome to promote female labor migration from the country. The FBR’s discriminatory policy was introduced in June 2013 to limit women with children under five and discourage women with older children from accepting overseas employment.

The RBF initially only covered departures of domestic workers, but in August 2015 it was extended to all women. As a result, starting in 2013, the predominance of women among worker departures decreased significantly, she added.

The FBR has also drawn criticism from international human rights groups pointing to its discriminatory practices.

In a welcome move, authorities have lowered the minimum age for employment of domestic workers to 21 in all countries. Previously, the minimum age for servants in Saudi Arabia was 25, 23 in other West Asian countries and 21 outside West Asia.

Meanwhile, local foreign employment agencies have complained that potential foreign job seekers are being forced to pay an exorbitant amount of money for compulsory medical examinations at licensed local medical centers. The tariff for these services has doubled to Rs. 38,000 from Rs. 18,000 two months ago.

As I pondered these questions, pausing and walking towards the kitchen for breakfast, my attention was drawn to the margosa where the trio were having a lively conversation about the country’s political crisis.

“Eih Ranil thaama sweeps inne. Aragalayata ona wune ne Gotabaya saha Ranil dennatama aswenna (Why does Ranil still stay in power? Didn’t the aragalaya want Gotabaya and Ranil to step down)? asked Kussi Amma Sera.

“Namuth Ranil aswunoth, prashna ethi wewi-ne aanduwe (But if Ranil also resigns, won’t there be a problem in the government), “asked Serapine.

“Me okkoma aswune neththam, rata yanne loku vyasanayakata (All these guys should quit or the country is heading for a major disaster),” echoed Mabel Rasthiyadu.

As I returned to the office to finish my column, my thoughts turned to the thousands of people queuing for fuel and those who only ate one meal a day. According to the development of the crisis, their predicament, it seems, will not be resolved in the coming weeks.

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