Sunday, March 14, 2010

IOM to monitor Lankan workers in Libya

Sunday Times -
Pilot project to improve migrant worker conditions

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM), a UN agency, will be monitoring the progress of the first batch of around 500 Sri Lankan workers who leave for Libya next month in a pilot project aimed at improving the status of workers overseas, officials said.

Female workers to Sony, JVC, IBM
Sri Lankan female workers are currently being recruited for production facilities in Malaysia of electronics giants Sony, JVC and IBM, said Sunil Sirisena, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare.
“We have negotiated with the companies who are providing 1,500 jobs (500 each) with the applicants needing a general knowledge of English which is a requirement,” he said.

In a first-time initiative, where an external agency will stand as a guarantor of the contract signed between workers and the employer, IOM’s office in Tripoli will personally follow the progress of these workers throughout their 1-year contracted work period, which is renewable, and step in if there are any issues between the workers and the management. The employer, a Brazilian company, was selected by IOM and the Sri Lankans – all males- will be part of a workforce building a second international airport in Tripoli .

“Our intention is to support government efforts to provide skilled manpower and empower workers before they leave,” said Shantha Kulasekara, Head of Migration Management, IOM Sri Lanka. He told the Business Times that in a very transparent process of recruitment, the Brazilian employer was in Colombo last week involved in the selections. “He personally tested the skills of each worker. For example a bulldozer driver was given a field test at a site in the presence of the Brazilian employer,” he said. The project is an initiative between the Sri Lankan and Libyan governments under an agreement reached between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi during the Sri Lankan President’s visit to Libya last year.

Thousands of Sri Lankans find jobs mostly in the Middle East and Asia but often encounter problems like non-payment of wages, problems in the contract and working longer hours that contracted while domestic workers face many other problems like sexual abuse and harassment. The Libya initiative which brings in IOM as a tripartite partner is meant to pave the way – if the project succeeds – to similar, supervised job arrangements in other countries.

Sunil Sirisena, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, said the programme, if successful, would be expanded to Israel , Cyprus , Italy and France . At the request of IOM, the Brazilian company has agreed to hire a Sri Lankan cook and a Sri Lankan coordinator to liaise between the workers and employer. IOM’s Kulasekera says food is often a bone of contention overseas because Sri Lankans may take awhile to get used to the food overseas.

“By having their own cook, they get Sri Lankan food. The Sri Lankan coordinator can help to iron out issues between the management and the workers,” he said. Labourers will get upto Rs 58,000 per month with food and accommodation provided free while the more skilled categories like heavy vehicle drivers can get up to Rs 100,000 per month.

“This way the woman in the house need not go abroad as the husband can earn enough to support the family,” he said. The company is also paying $1000 per worker for processing and other charges ensuring the worker need not pay any money, like in the case of unlicensed agencies who demand money for a job.

“This is a very transparent system and we are hoping it succeeds. If it does, there will be more jobs in Libya for Sri Lankans,” he said.

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