Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lanka expats jailed for no fault of theirs’

Mohammed Rasooldeen Arab News

RIYADH: Foreign workers should not be punished for the blunders of their sponsors, the visiting head of a Sri Lankan labor team said on Friday.
"It is sad to note that some Sri Lankan workers are languishing in jail for not possessing resident certificates that are expected to be obtained for them by the sponsors," Kingsley Ranawake, chairman of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau (SLBFE), told Arab News on Friday during a visit to the country.
He pointed out that according to the employment contract, the sponsor should obtain the resident certificate and that the employee is supposed to face punitive action for not facilitating legal working status for the employees. He cited another incident where a Sri Lankan driver R.M. Wimalaratne, was convicted since he possessed only a light vehicle license while driving a heavy lorry at the time of the accident. " It is the employer's responsibility to give the right vehicle according to the driving license of his employee."
He said that these matters would be taken up with the concerned authorities to address the issue.
SLBFE is a statutory body that looks after the interests of its overseas workers who are registered with the organization. Besides a package of welfare measures to its registrants, SLBFE helps distressed workers for their repatriation and providing suitable compensation for their death in their overseas workplaces.
Ranawake is currently leading a four member-delegation on a fact-finding mission to identify labor problems in the Kingdom and to report them to the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Labor Welfare.
Based on these recommendations, Foreign Employment Promotion and Labor Welfare Minister Keheliya Rambukwella will move an amendment to the SLBFE Act in Parliament aimed at providing permanent solutions to the problems faced by the island's overseas migrant workers.
"We are also here to look into irregularities faced by our workers, especially female workers, considering the invaluable service rendered by them to bring a colossal amount of foreign exchange to the motherland every year."
Besides exploring the problems of Lankan workers, Ranawake explained that his mission is also to strengthen bilateral relations and explore new areas of cooperation in promoting employment opportunities and working for the welfare of the estimated 550,000 Lankan workers in the Kingdom.
Around one million Lankans are presently in the Middle Eastern countries and majority of them are employed in the Kingdom. Among the workers 80 percent are women.
The official pointed out that the problems of Lankan workers are minimal, compared to the large Lankan population in the Kingdom.
"The Riyadh mission records around 10 runaway housemaids a day and a good number of them are settled following negotiations with the respective employers," he said. "We are really thankful to those kind sponsors of our domestic aides for looking after them with care and affection."
He said that the government is in the process of opening migrant-training centers in the recently freed areas in the north and in the eastern parts of the island.
"One such center has been already opened in the Eastern capital of Batticaloa and another will be opened shortly in Vauniya," he added.
These centers would work to train Tamil youths in a wide range of skills.
"They can come out as white-collar workers, skilled laborers - such as masons, painters, welders, electricians and auto technicians - according to the needs of the local and international labor markets. Following the training, the chairman said the SLBFE would also consider them for placement in overseas stations.
The SLBFE official would not comment on the ongoing case of Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek, the housemaid who was also expected be a nanny when she came to the Kingdom at 17 on fake documents provided by her local recruiter stating she was 23. She was arrested in 2005 on charges of murdering a newborn baby in her care seven days into her new job. She claims the infant choked to death while she was bottle-feeding and that her confession was made under duress with inadequate translation assistance. She is fighting the death penalty.
Ranawake said it would be untoward for him to comment on a case currently being examined by the Kingdom's Supreme Judicial Council.

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