Monday, October 26, 2009

Remittances, Side Businesses & Failure of sate on sustaining and protecting Migrant Workers

By G.S.L.J.S. Dias –A.A.L


Migrant workers are the second largest export commodity of Sri Lanka and even though this industry deals with humans. In spite of the market stake Migrant workers are neglected and poorly treated by the state and state authorities as well as various other service providers and actors. In every possible opportunity the migrant related actors are exploiting the money earn by the Migrant workers.

Often we can see these state and non state actors behaves like a money grabbers rather services providers. There are two categories of money grabbers even though some are involved with voluntary decision of Migrant workers. But there is a clear group of Money grabbers that can be prevent by a Government intervention.

The first export sector of Sri Lanka is the garment industry, which is not completely a Sri Lankan production, where we do only the processing in Sri Lanka and value added services. Compare to Tea industry, where Sri Lanka get total benefit. Labour exports bringing full benefits to the country, therefore from the migrant’s perspective the industry owe more facilities and infrastructure. The unfortunate tragedy is that migrant workers with that high prominence in the remittance sector won’t get incentives or protection for their contribution but only undignified treatments.

The area where severe exploitations are taking place can be regularized and redress through government interventions, and some of those are; Remittance transfer issues, Leisure facilities , Errant Recruitment Agencies , Taxes and Custom Duties , Welfare in Host countries , Protection, Health and investments. The voluntary protection programmes can be introduced in to Media, Communication and, Religious observances where government has no direct involvement.

I prefer to share life stories as its easy to understand. A friend of mine paid Rs.150,000/= in 2005 to go to Malaysia to a leading and well known recruitment agency. After three months of payment they all were sent back after they were stranded in Malaysian Airport for three days. The agency promised the money back and paid 70,000 and kept balance 80,000 with a promise for a job in Saudi Arabia ( KSA). My friend got the money as he was being able to threat the agency and I intervened as Lawyer. After 6 to 8 months he was offered a job in KSA as driver , all these days my friend was jobless and waiting for new job and spend Rs.70,000/= for his daily living expenses. In KSA his salary was 700 Saudi Riyals (SR) and 300 living allowance out of that 100 SR was deducted for Akama (kind of Saudi Job Permit) and some more for other licenses. Their salaries were paid two months later. In Sri Lankan currency every thing he got comes to about 25,000/= per month and he being able to send around 12000-15,000 to the family.

My friend had spend nearly 200,000 before he get this job but only being able to send back home around 250,000 for the 24 months, By few week he felt that he is not in sound financial position and need some thing to earn and only way out is going back to middle east. He moved to another Arabic country for better salary through a relative. This time his life may be better than the past but I know for sure that he lost all the faith on the state system and every body involved in the field. My friend is a fortunate one compare to some cases I received from Migrant workers. Is this only his fault? Or is there some others are also involved side businesses among Migrant workers?

A survey done by the Migrant Rights organizations in Hong Kong among the Hong Kong Domestic workers brought interesting findings. According to said survey the majority of Pilipino Domestic Workers spends nearly 55 % of their income inside Hong Kong and only send 45% back to their homes. These figures are varied to other nationalities such as nearly 45 % for Indonesians and 40% for Sri Lankans. Stories are more pathetic in Middle East as some of the Domestic workers wont get any salary at all but similar in countries like Singapore and Israel. There are various businesses and actors to grab the earnings of these migrants workers through various gimmicks and attractions. These migrant workers knowingly and unknowingly become victims of these fake persons.

The first tragedy comes when a Migrant worker leaves the country as she or he will loose his or her eligibility for Samurdhi (the Government Poor relief). Government removes them from the list of the welfare recipients as they are no more below the poverty line. Actually they are worst than before until the end of first year as many of them continue to pay the debts they obtain to pay the job money. In Indonesian, case most of the domestic workers working in their first 7 months to pay their agency fees. Usually most of the Domestic workers in Middle East receive around 150-200 USD even though Government insist on 250US$. This small salary will not be enough to maintain a family and pay the debts as well as their dream of sustenance. It will take 3 to 4 years for them to come to a break even position. By the time many of them undergo social issues and family issues due to migration and compelled to continue. But this endless migration will benefit the state and other money grabbers as until Migration is existing the taxes and other incomes are ensured.

Gender Aspect

From this point my emphasis is on how these migrant workers manage their salaries and how various other actors are trying to grab money from them. Most of the Women Newspaper companies targets Factory Girls & Migrant workers as their prime readers. When a news paper comes to a host country it will cost around Rs 200 /= a paper there are more than 20 such Women News papers discuss every thing under the sun including many myths. These migrant workers spend on these news papers as they are human and need some kind of leisure for them( this is valid for those who are allowed to go out but for those who are not permitted has to live in open prisons until they terminated). Knowing the social stigma that these workers are going through and their distance relationships with their loved once bogus sooth Sayers, shamans and astrologers advertise various services for money in this news papers. These cunning culprits some how exploit the psychosocial issues of the Migrant workers in to a money spin for them. These bogus wild businesses even advertise their Fax numbers to receive grievances of Migrant workers and answers by currier services.

This will follow CD &DVD film sellers, and food Items sellers. Many Migrant workers spend money on food Items as they cannot continue with food styles of the host countries for a longer period.

Religions too

It’s also a practice of various religious sects and orders to export religious preachers to those host countries and tax the migrant works. In many cases government failed to provide these services which has high demand and finally this burden also falls in to the Migrant workers head. If government intend to get involved in this services must go for all four religions as well. Poor migrant workers offer things varied from Atapirikara ( Buddhist Offerings)to Wine ( mainly Christians do ) for these popular preachers including their air fare and hotel bills.

Lack of cultural interaction

Then comes the organized Musical and cultural show organizers and they organize at least 3- 4 shows per year and some times it goes up to 6 in some in certain countries. A country like Korea a ticket will cost 25 USD and in Middle Eastern country it will come down to10-12 USD and Italy it will be higher than that. These show organizers take various types of Musicians & Bands to where Migrant workers are living as it’s a lucrative and profit making business for them. Poor migrant workers can be easily attracted to these business ventures due to their lonely life styles that they undergo in their host countries.

Banks and Dreams

Sending remittance is a costly thing irrespective of ownership of the bank is state or not. All most all the banks do charge commissions from Migrant workers it comes to about 1500/= for each transaction. There is large number of unauthorized money senders where they involved in Forex business by currency supplying to business community. They don’t charge any thing therefore they are very much popular among workers. In cases forgers runaway with the earnings of migrant workers. NRFC accounts of many banks are just an eyewash and their promises are not real. Some banks promise low Interest Housing Loans but once you go to banks they said its only for the 200,000 and if the loan is more than that then the interest will be higher. These benefits and its limits are not divulged at the time of account opening. This is misleading and cheating and only for attract poor Migrant workers with sugar coated words but really no benefits. Further these loans are extremely difficult to obtain as migrant workers has to prove their income where they are unable.


Duty free is another cheat for Migrant workers as many household items are out of the list of Duty free items. Cargo taxes can be reduced for the Migrant workers and special benefits can be offer to the Migrant workers. I have seen in many occasion that how Customs officers treat poor migrant workers at the custom warehouses. Most of the Migrant workers bring second hand items and small items that thrown out by their employers and at the customs these poor people are being exploited and some times mercilessly. I have seen how women leave the place crying as they couldn’t take any thing home as their duty is extremely high. There is no educating process or clear advices on custom duties and calculation patterns , Poor domestic helper are being victims of various person at those warehouses specially from Customs.

Migrant workers are thirst of information about their families specially the mothers but for many of them it’s a costly business. Many migrant workers spend good percentage of their income on call cards and telephones all of them buy a mobile as they wants to communicate with their loved once Mobile Market is very lucrative among the Migrant workers. Most of the Migrant workers are become victims of various taxes that government charge directly and indirectly as well as Job Money.

Almost all the job Agencies charge job money and they do not confined to government charges, but charge between 250UDS to 1500 USD depend on the country. If it’s a European country the amount will go up to 1 Million. None of these agents give receipts for these money but they charge these amounts as job seekers pay anything to get a job.

Health from you own wealth

In many places these poor workers have to look after their health needs and medicine in some cases there are free medical facilities and insurances. None of the host countries has proper psychosocial interventions for Migrant works and embassies are not equipped enough to handle these kind of cases. Many of the workers under go emotional issues but no body to help them. These psycho social issues finally deal by the bogus agents and many lose their money to those fake people.


Most of the Migrant Workers continuously occupied as Migrant Workers and even brought their children in to the industry and some are entering third generation Migrants. Since Sri Lanka is involved in Migrant workers industry for last 40 Years the Third generation is now entering in to the industry . If migration is a successful and sustainable industry then third generation must be live in comfortable lives. But the truth is far different from that. Over the past 4 decades governments of Sri Lankan didn’t have a proper plan for Migrant workers future. Government just enjoyed the colossal amount of remittance earned by the Migrant workers and did nothing to them neither protect them from others. From Remittance to counseling, communication to duty free items , government can intervene and make these people lives more productive and sustainable and easy . But it’s very sad that all the governments were failed to so do. At least embassies and consular sections doesn’t give any concession for the migrant workers on their renewal of Passport or any official matter but seek donations when ever government needs support back in Sri Lanka.

End Note

I will end this with a constructive note a friend of mine workers for Migrant organization and shared with me. According to her some migrant organization are already involved in collective actions for Migrant investments in Countries like Philippines. These investments will bring sustainability and dignity for the migrant workers and transform their life perceptions as well. The ultimate goal of these Philippine Migrant organizations were to buy the majority shares of a air line and provide better services for Migrant workers. This can be a dream but a dream that every migrant workers should dream where their lives end in dignified position. . Otherwise Migrant workers will see their 4th generation also entering into the same industry. We as a country will fall in to such shameful position unless we do some thing to bring sustainability to the lives of Migrant workers. From the Migrant workers side prevention and stop exploitation is a major and urgent need where they expect from the government and relax the red tapes.

Sri Lankan Government can do many interventions if they are interested. Initiate a separate Duty free complex for Migrant workers and Government owned cheaper international call card system can be a good beginning. As well as regularity bodies for every section where migrant workers involved or strengthen Sri Lankan Bureau for Foreign Employment (SLBFE) collective partnership of State , Private sector and Migrant Rights Groups.

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