Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Migrant workers pension scheme: Silent theft

By Lakshan J.S. Dias
Migrant workers are the most innocent and victimised community in Sri Lanka where there is no proper organisation for their rights or benefit. The institution created for their benefit is the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) which is a questionable entity whether they really act on behalf of the migrant workers. Now the government has triggered another problem through a pension scheme.
The Overseas Employees’ Pension Benefits Fund is a bogus scheme similar to the recently-failed private sector pension scheme. However the Government will not receive any strong opposition from migrant workers for the following reasons – the number one being that the person concerned doesn’t live in Sri Lanka and therefore is physically incapable of opposing the scheme as the bare minimum protest.

Therefore it will be easy go for the Government. Secondly the number of beneficiaries are huge but scattered all over the world and who will be dealt individually. No collective bargaining power for them.
NGOs working for migrant workers are really small. The Bill proposes that there should be a minimum contribution that’s Rs 24,000 and the contribution can be much larger and long term. Generally a migrant worker serves in a foreign country for four years and sometimes six years but those who work abroad more than six years is much less. But this scheme will encourage people to serve more years to get a larger pension. So the migrant workers will stay abroad many more years leaving their families behind, to benefit from an increased pension.

The Pension Fund is to be managed under one commissionaire - either the SLBFE Chairman or nominee of the Chairman. The Chairman (or nominee) is the authority for many decisions including the determination of pension amounts and if anyone is dissatisfied they have to follow a long legal process provided in the proposed Act, which a migrant worker won’t have the resources to do and strength to challenge. Therefore the chairperson can deprive workers of their rights by deciding lesser amounts. The fund according to the proposed Act encourages investments in government securities which shows that this will really benefit the Government to maintain its expenditure in various state projects. Losses in such investments will not apply any liability to the chairperson nor designated officers. The proposed Act has many serious gender equality violations even though the majority of the migrant workers are women. The entire proposed Act defines the beneficiaries/officials as ‘he, his, him and chairman, etc’.

At least the language need to be refined in these modern days. Very importantly the age is the main issue, similar to the private sector pension scheme. Pension entitlements for migrant workers start at 65 years. The life expectancy of Sri Lankans is 70-72 years and therefore the maximum pension can be around seven years. If someone contributes for more than seven years they might not even receive the amount that have contributed. The pension is mainly targeted to the contributor and if the contributor needs to extend the benefits to the kids then they should marry at the age of 47 or 50 years. For women that’s the age that they cannot bear children. In general Sri Lankan women have children at the age of 20-35 and none of them can think of any benefit for their children unless they are medically unfit. But even for such children its only a lump sum equivalent to 60 % of the amount lying to the credit of the member’s individual account that shall be paid to such dependent. If there is more than one dependent, such amount will be divided among the dependents in equal shares. The ‘Chairman’ has to certify the payment in every case while the dissatisfied have to go to a tribunal created under the scheme or to Court of Appeal.

The ‘Chairman’ or Minister can always maintain the interest rate at around 3% as there is only a minimum interest rate mentioned and there is no certainty in it. It’s hard to believe that migrant workers will join this scheme voluntarily; if so why should the Government introduce such a scheme and will the Government be satisfied with voluntary contributors after contributing Rs 1 billion from state funds even though that is only a bond similar to the other failed one? Recently a Minister was reported as saying that hereafter employers will meet incoming migrant workers not at the airport of the receiving country but the embassy or consulate of Sri Lanka and documents must be signed there. In such a situation, the Embassy or consulate can insist (or goad) workers (or even employers) to contribute to the pension scheme. At that stage migrant worker won’t have any option other than agreeing.

The provision:“The contributions of a member of the Fund and of his employer in respect of him and the interest on such contribution shall be credited by the Monetary Board to the individual account of such member,” clearly indicates that in future the Government will ensure that either employer or employee must contribute to the scheme or both as they have no option rather than agree since they already made the decision to start a new job in a receiving country. Sometimes employers might agree to contribute to the pension but deduct the amount from the migrant workers which prevails in Hong Kong where employers pay a levy for migrant workers and that is reduced from the salary of the migrant workers, indirectly.

While a pension scheme for migrant workers is justified, the government has neglected and marginalized this worker segment and is only interested in the earnings as a foreign exchange input. Gradually the Government will impose compulsory contributions to the migrant workers through the system of signing agreements at the Bureau and embassy involvement in employer-employee match making.

Further this contribution is apart from the levy of the SLBFE.If a worker earns Rs 20,000 a month the contribution is 5% and this is huge for them as well as output will be very small if someone contributes for five years. The full amount lying in his/her individual account will be around Rs 120,000 and if that person receives a pension at the age of 65, it will be around Rs 2000 or a little more while the worker has to wait 10 years to get the pension. On the other hand, the minimum funds (available to the Government) would be Rs 2 billion per month if every worker contributes.

There are around two million migrant workers living abroad with nearly 1.7 million registered under the SLFBE. The annual input would be Rs 24 billion of which the Fund gets a 10-year definite investment time as anyone has to wait 10 years or more to receive benefits. The pension amount is also unclear and is to be determined by the ‘Chairman’. Accountability of the chairman and the officers and Monetary Board is vague even though the Government auditor audits it and everyone is well aware of how other state institutions respond to government audits. The decision of getting the support of Grama Sevakas, AGAs and other village officers into the decision -making of verifying the payment holders existing can lead to corruption and conflict.

(The writer is a lawyer and campaigner for the rights of migrant workers. He could be reached at

Alleged rapist freed

A Sri Lankan man who was arrested in Jordan over the weekend over allegations of rape and abuse of women at a garment factory, has been set free, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights said.

Charles Kernaghan, director of the institute told News that Anil Shantha was freed yesterday and he is now back at the same garment factory in Jordan.

“Anil Santha was imprisoned for rape on Saturday, June 18. A young Bangladeshi woman testified before a prosecutor at the Criminal Investigation Department of Jordan's Public Security Directorate. The young woman described in great detail how Anil brutally raped her several times, tearing off her dress and biting her--which even a month later left a visible bruise. But after two days in prison, Anil was freed and today, Tuesday, June 21, he was again walking around the Classic factories. The women workers from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are extremely terrified that he will take revenge on them,” Charles Kernaghan said.

Anil Shantha, is the General Manager at the Classic factory in Jordan and was mentioned in a report by the US based Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.

The report had said that scores of young Sri Lankan women suffered routine sexual abuse and repeated rapes, and in some cases even torture at the factory and Shantha was named as one of the rapists.

Charles Kernaghan told News that it was either tremendous incompetence or corruption of the Jordanian police or prosecutors that allowed Shantha to walk free.

“We will continue to pursue Anil Santha, who deserves to be imprisoned for life. We will demand that the wealthy U.S. apparel companies like Wal-Mart and Hanes pay compensation to Anil's victims,” Charles Kernaghan said.

The garment factory in Jordan supplies material Wal-Mart and Hanes, two major US stores.

(Report by Easwaran Rutnam for News

SL women ‘routinely raped’ in Jordan

Scores of young Sri Lankan women working in a garment factory called ‘Classic Factory’ in Jordan sewing clothing for world renowned clothing outlets have suffered routine sexual abuse and repeated rapes, and in some cases even torture, a report released by an organization called Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights said.

Issuing a full detailed report, the US based organization said, quoting one of the young rape victims at the factory, that, “Women who refuse the sexual advances of Classic's managers are also beaten and deported.”

“On the weekly holiday, the alleged serial rapist, who is also a Sri Lankan, sends a van to bring four or five young women to his hotel, where he abuses them.

The lives of the young Sri Lankan rape victims are completely shattered, as in their culture, virginity is highly prized and critical for a good marriage,” the report stated.

In October 2010, 2,400 Sri Lankan and Indian workers went on strike demanding the removal of the alleged rapist. Classic's owner sent this particular manager away, but he returned after one month, it said.

It also said that, through the Institute’s National Labour Committee's reports, the Ministry of Labour had been made aware of the sexual abuse as early as 2007, but had done nothing.

“The standard shift at Classic is 13 hours a day, six and seven days a week, with some 18 ½ hour shifts before the clothing is shipped to the U.S. According to witness testimonies, workers are routinely cursed at, hit and shortchanged of their wages for failing to reach their mandatory production goals. To press the women to work faster, managers grope and fondle them.” The workers-who are from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Egypt, earn a take-home wage of just 61 cents an hour.

“One Bangladeshi worker recently deported from the Classic factory said that, "all the workers of Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh...everybody will testify that this particular manager raped the Sri Lankan women. Everybody knows. In a safe place, the workers will testify,” the report also stated.

Full report:

Jordan probing abuse claims

The Jordan labour minister started investigating allegations of sexual abuse, torture and rape against foreign workers in a garment factory in Jordan’s Al Hassan Industrial Estate (QIZ) reported by a US-based labour advocacy group.

The 82-page report, issued by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (IGLHR), cited testimonies compiled via interviewing foreign workers at Classic Fashion in Al Hassan Industrial Estate alleging systematic rape and torture practised against young Sri Lankan women by compatriots in charge of the outlet.

The ministry’s director of inspection and safety, Adnan Rababaa, told The Jordan Times yesterday that the ministry is dealing with the accusations mentioned in the report with utmost concern and will take action if it finds grounds for these charges.

“We formed an ad hoc committee comprising members of all concerned entities who have already started arbitrary interviews with the labourers in this particular company in order to verify the accusations in the report,” Rababaa said, adding that the ministry will officially respond to the IGLHR report within the coming few days after the investigative committee concludes its mission.

He noted that the interviews with the workers are taking place in the presence of translators in order to ensure better understanding by the workers of the committee’s task force, adding that ministry investigators take all precautionary measures to ensure the workers’ safety from employers’ retaliation.

Investigation in to maid torture

By Gandhya Senanayake

The Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment has requested Lebanese officials to conduct a criminal investigation in to the alleged torture of a Sri Lankan maid, after she was forced to gulp down iron nails by her previous employer, the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau told Daily Mirror online

The maid identified as Malkanthi had reportedly told her new employer that she was forced to swallow nails by her previous employer, after which she was admitted to the hospital, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau, Kingsly Ranawaka told Daily Mirror online

He added that all steps were being taken by Sri Lankan officials in Lebanon to look into the welfare of the maid and that she had requested to stay at her new employers residents to continue her employment.

A medical check up had been carried out on the maid and the nails had been removed, the SLFEB said. (Daily Mirror online)

One parent pardons Rizana

By Sumaiya Rizvi

One parent of the dead Saudi infant had pardoned her however both parents had to pardon if she were to be acquitted, Minister of foreign employment promotion and welfare Dilan Perera said yesterday at a press conference.

Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana is in death row in Saudi Arabia for the death of an infant. Her execution had been suspended by the king and her fate is now in the hands of the dead infant’s parents. Both parents had to pardon if she were to be released.

Minister Foreign Employment Minister Dilan Perera said that if she were pardoned the Lankan Government was willing to pay the blood money in exchange for her release and repatriation.

“We are working to help release her but I don’t want to talk about it as it might upset the victim’s family,” he added.

“We should not anger the Saudi Arabian public by protesting since they can protest against the suspended sentence on Rizana,” he said.

The Minister said the Ministry was willing to look after the welfare of Rizana’s family however their only need was the safe return of their daughter.

Lankan housemaid severely tortured

By- R. Anurudthan

A woman resident of Vakarai was severely tortured in Saudi Arabia by her employer that left her seriously maimed. She was handed over to her relatives at the Foreign Employment Bureau Office, on Monday. The Victim is Manohary Bawani, a mother of two children who went to Saudi Arabia in June 2003 to work as a housemaid in Damam.

The trouble started when she had asked for her wages after a lapse of two years.

She was hanged upside down and some chemicals put into her eyes. Her hair was set on fire and her ears were burned as a result, she said.“I was burnt with a hot iron rod”, she further said.

She couldn’t communicate with anyone and when she managed to report to the Police, they did nothing other than handing over to the employer following which she was subjected to more torture, Bawani said.

“Finally I was left stranded on the road and the Police who found me sent me to the Sri Lankan embassy, which made arrangement to send me back home” she said.

Deported Lankans landed

About 40 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers, who were deported from Britain, arrived here this morning, police said.

A senior police officer confirmed that currently statements were being recorded from them by a special team from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). “We were just recording statements from them, once the procedure is over we will allow them to go soon,” the official said. (SD)

Decomposed body of Lankan recovered

The partially decomposed remains of a 30-year-old Sri Lankan woman who is said to have died of internal bleeding have been referred to Forensics, reports Al-Watan Arabic daily.

The daily quoting Kuwaiti security sources said police and paramedics acting on information from neighbors of the woman that foul smell was emanating from her apartment got permission from the Public Prosecution and forced open the door. Initial reports show the woman died of internal bleeding. (Arab News

Last of stranded Lankans leave

The Sri Lankan Consulate cleared Monday the last batch of 117 stranded workers who were languishing under Jeddah's Kandara bridge, a popular location for stranded foreign laborers.

"This was the last batch of the 1,000 Sri Lankan workers who were living under the bridge in Jeddah since November," said Consul General Sabarullah Khan.

He added that the final group comprising 53 women were temporarily housed at special accommodation given by the government at the Haj Terminal near Jeddah Islamic Port.

The consulate has moved these stranded workers to the deportation camp from where they will be sent back home during this week.

Authorities from labor-remitting countries, such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines, regularly pick up stranded workers and deport them home at their own expense.

Khan explained that his office will render all assistance to prepare travel documents for these people to return to Sri Lanka. He also thanked the Saudi authorities for their help.

The consul added that his mission currently only has one stranded worker in its custody. "We have only one runaway maid at the shelter. Her case also will be settled soon," he said.

The diplomat requested the Sri Lankan workers in general to regularize their employment status in accordance with the Kingdom's regulations. "Stranded workers should report to the mission instead of squatting under the bridge," he said.

He pointed out that the food and lodging of these stranded workers are funded by the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE). Under a statutory law, migrant workers from the island nation have to register themselves with the SLBFE prior to their departure for overseas work posts. The bureau has a package of welfare measures for its registrants, especially women overseas workers.

(Arab News)

SL maid rescued after 13 years

A Sri Lankan housemaid was kept against her will by her Saudi sponsor and not paid since she came to the Kingdom in 1997, sources from the Jazan governorate said.

According to the sources, the authorities rescued 45-year-old Weerawardena Hettiarachchilage Indrani Mallika Hettiarachchi and arrested the sponsor on instructions from Jazan Gov. Prince Muhammad bin Nasser, who had been tipped off about the maid by a Saudi living in the neighborhood.

“It was the governor who took prompt action to rescue the maid from the clutches of the Saudi sponsor, who had kept her in captivity since she came to Jazan in 1997,” Deputy Jazan Gov. Abdullah Mohamed Al-Suwaid said.

The authorities had admitted her to the Social Affairs Protection Center in Jazan where she will stay until the sponsor pays her outstanding wages.

According to Al-Suwaid, the Saudi sponsor, who is currently in custody, had said that he cannot afford to pay the estimated SR60,000 in outstanding wages.

Hettiarachchi has two children back home — 20-year-old son Asanka Pradeep who is handicapped and 19-year-old daughter Dilrukshi who has just finished school.

The maid’s husband Sunil Premathilake told Arab News over the phone from the historical Sri Lankan city of Polannaruwa, 300 km from the capital of Colombo, that his family thought Hettiarachchi had died since there had been no news about her from the Kingdom.

“I am very happy to know that she is living and we want her back home as quickly as possible,” he said.

Sri Lankan Consul General in Jeddah Sabarullah Khan said that he sent a special team headed by the mission’s labor welfare officer Mohammed Meeran Jeffrey to Jazan to assist the maid. According to Jeffrey, Al-Suwaid had promised that authorities would make arrangements to pay some outstanding wages to the maid and she would be repatriated home within two months.

Al-Suwaid also said that he would claim as much as possible from the sponsor and top up the rest using state funds, Jeffrey added.

The diplomat thanked the National Society for Human Rights who were taking a special interest in Hettiarachchi’s case. (arabnews)

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Sri Lankan migrant workers must be taken to other areas beyond the low-paying Middle East Zone, says Dullas Alahapperuma, Minister of Youth Affairs and Skills Development.

He made this observation while addressing a function in Colombo yesterday.
An agreement was signed with the Minster of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities yesterday to provide a national vocational qualification to those engaged in the construction sector.

“When we look at the world's foreign employment policies, we can see that the Middle East is the lowest paying zone. The primary reason is that our workers lack professional qualifications. We hope that in the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, we will be able to gradually conquer the foreign markets that lie beyond the Middle East,” said Dullas Alhapperuma.

“We always hear the slogan, 'Give employment to unemployed graduates'. But we never hear the slogan 'give employment to the younger generation', that didn't make it beyond the advanced level exam," said Wimal Weerawansa, Minster of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities.

"Today a government has been formed which will not only create a future where graduates will be employed, but a government that formulates special programmes especially for the larger segment of youth who were unable to move forward with their education.

"This government will care for them and bring them forward as good citizens in the country,” said Weerawansa.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Look after our Middle East earners NOW

By Sqn. Ldr. J.T. Rex Fernando

With monotonous regularity there are reports in the newspapers of blatant harassment, exploitation and deprivation of legitimate dues of our migrant workers in the Middle East . The most recent cases of torturing of housemaids with nails have been shocking. The following are some of the recent news paper reports of harassment and torture of our migrant workers.

X “Sri Lankan maids suffer abuse in the Middle East .”
X “Domestic helpers still subject to abuse.”
X “Housemaid thrashed in Reynard.”
X “Housemaid abused by the Employer.”
X “Sri Lankan maids among the most tortured workers in the world.”
X “100 Lankan migrant workers stranded to be brought back from Saudi.”
X “ Ten Sri Lankan forcible detained by employer”
X “Doctor confirms housemaid tortured in Kuwait ”

Dismal record

According to news reports and the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment., the government received 2,000 reports on foreign employers abusing maids in 2003. According to the same report, 123 Sri Lankan women had died in 2003 while working abroad. The government had classified 45 of the cases as ‘Unnatural Deaths’. In other words those deaths are apparently murders. While the latest statistics are not available, this is an alarming rate of violence against Sri Lankan women in some Middle East countries. It is true that those countries help Sri Lanka by providing employment opportunities our men and women but there should be some effective mechanism to ensure the safety of Sri Lankan housemaids employed abroad. The government has to take some meaningfull action to protect Sri Lankan women working abroad.
Need for an effective mechanism

The frequency of cases of harassment and exploitation of migrant workers, particularly female workers necessitate the setting in motion of a meaningful and effective mechanism to rationalize the recruitment of Sri Lankan workers, and registration and control of employment agencies. Considering the numerous problems encountered by our migrant workers, the need to expeditiously initiate suitable action to tackle these intricate problems cannot be over - emphasized.
While after every case of harassment, torture, deprivation of wages is reported the bureau of foreign employment assures that action is pursued to prevent such recurrence, regrettably no effective action is pursued.
The magnitude of the problem of migrant workers, and the unenviable predicament particularly of workers in Arab lands can only be adequately appreciated and understood by those who have served in the Middle East , and have had an insight into the working conditions of our migrant workers. Serving in a Middle East country for nearly a decade in the capacity of Chief Administrative Officer in a government establishment, and having travelled widely in the Gulf, I am aware how some private sector employers and employment agencies dupe expatriate workers by ingenious subtle and insidious ways. I am also aware of the many instances of physical and sexual harassment, deprivation of wages, and also the nonchalant attitude adopted by employment agencies and our foreign missions when migrant workers are faced with problems.
The governments of Gulf countries including Kuwait , the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia , as well as Lebanon have over, the years, failed to curb abuse against Sri Lankan domestic workers. The New York based Human Rights Watch in a recent report has stated that domestic helpers, typically labour for 16 to 21 hours for extremely low wages of 15 to 30 US cents an hour. “Some domestic workers had told Human Rights Watch how they were subjected to forced confinement, food deprivation, physical and verbal abuse, forced labour, and sexual harassment and rape by their employers,” it said. More than 660,000 Sri Lankan women work abroad as domestic workers, nearly 90 per cent in Kuwait , Saudi Arabia , the UAE and Lebanon , according to HRW. The government in the Gulf exposes Sri Lankan domestic workers to abuse by refusing to guarantee a weekly rest day, limits to the work day, freedom of movement and other rights that most workers take for granted. It is an undisputable fact that too many employers and unscrupulous labour agencies get away with exploitating workers without real punishment.
Considering the magnitude of the problem, it is necessary to expeditiously rationalize recruiting procedures to provide for effective and meaningful control of employment agencies. The following are salient aspects that should to be considered.

(A) The Labour Charter intended to protect the rights of workers has to consider the outcry of Sri Lankan workers in the Middle East . Their rights have to be accurately safeguarded.
(B) The insidious, dubious and ingenious ways, employment agencies circumvent existing laws and dupe those seeking employment abroad. Even some reputed employment agencies seem to continue unabated to discretely flout even basic procedures.
(C) The rather ineffective role of the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment which is sopposedly the “Protector of Migrant Workers”.
(D) The nonchalant attitude of foreign missions to the problems of workers abroad. It is regrettable that until now, the pitiful conditions of most of our workers in the Middle East have been of little concern despite remittances to the national coffers exceeding Rs. 40 billion annually.

Precautionary measures

In the pursuance of the efforts to provide for better terms and conditions, an effective recruitment policy in respect of Sri Lankans going abroad for employment hoping for a better tomorrow, the following aspects should also be given careful consideration and should be effectively covered, and deterrent action pursued particularly against dubious labour agencies.

(1) The Bureau of Foreign Employment must be geared to perform a more meaningful and effective role as the “Protector of Migrant Workers”. It should be given the “muscle” to assert itself and be able to prevent or at least minimize the exploitation of our workers.
(2) The activities and modus operandi of employment agencies must be carefully monitored. There should be effective machinery to prevent the duping of applicants for employment abroad and the extraction of prohibitive and unconscionable commissions. All foreign employment agencies without exception should come under the purview of the Bureau of Foreign Employment.
(3) Formulation of a code of conduct/ethics for employment agencies should be given consideration and licensing of these agencies should be on the basis of their credentials, suitability and competence.
(4) The responsibilities of employment agencies should be carefully laid down. It is well-known that most agencies are only concerned about the interests of foreign employers/principals. Invariably the interests of workers are subjugated to the interest of the employer.
(5) The contracts of employment should be carefully scrutinized and the Bureau must guide and advice those seeking employment about the mandatory safeguards and precautions, since:-

(i) Some contracts are “one sided” and there is no employer/employee reciprocal obligations.
(ii) Some are in Arabic and the workers required to sign the contracts either before departure or on arrival to take up the appointment.
(iii) Despite the stipulations in the contracts, provision is invariably made for the “Sharia Law” to override the provisions in the contract of employment.
(iv) There should be adequate safeguards against unilateral repudiation of the contracts of employment. Very often after signing the formal contract of employment or on arrival to take up the appointment, the terms and conditions of employment are altered. Such cases are on the increase and the Bureau has been inundated with such cases of blatant repudiation of the contracts.
(v) Need to re-negotiate worker agreements with explicit employer obligations with the host countries with bad reputation. The countries to which our workers are send respect the Human Rights of workers and the relevant ILO conventions.
(vi) In the event of a breach of the contract, by non payment of wages, withdrawal of facilities and allowances agreed upon, change of status and duties and adverse working conditions, the procedure for redress must be clearly set out.
(vii) A suitable body must be instituted to arbitrate and settle disputes arising from the failure of employers and employment agencies to fulfill the contractual obligations. Regrettably our missions abroad have not been able to be of any meaningful assistance.
(viii) It may be helpful if an in-depth study is made of the numerous cases of our workers who have encountered various problems such as non payment of wages, unilateral change of conditions of employment, and cases of physical and sexual harassment.
A more meaningful and effective control of the recruitment of Sri Lankans for employment in the Middle East is a pressing national and humanitarian necessity.
Unless the role of the Bureau of Foreign Employment as the protector of migrant workers is made more effective and assertive and the activities of employment agencies are closely monitored and regulated and our foreign missions abroad show more concern for the travails and tribulations of our workers, no significant and meaningful change will result.

Skinned Alive

Sunday Leader - January 16, 2011
By Ranee Mohamed

She can neither sit, nor stand. She can neither sleep or straighten. As she squirms in pain, more painful is the memory of a torture of a lifetime that Sri Lankan housemaid Ana Ummu Fanoon (39) alleges that she underwent in the house where she was employed for eight months in Saudi Arabia .
Hamdu Thaslim of Ambana, Na-Ula, did not have a steady job. It was his work in the nearby quarry, breaking stones, that helped feed his wife and five children. Though partly disabled, with a hand and a leg giving him constant trouble, he had no alternative but to limp his way to the quarry and hammer the hard stones till they broke into smithereens.
These harsh conditions coupled with the gnawing hunger made his wife Ana Ummu Fanoon (39) seek employment in Saudi Arabia .
“We were concerned about our only daughter. Someday we had to give her in marriage and a dowry had to be found. With hardly any money to eat, finding a dowry was an impossibility,” said Thaslim, speaking to The Sunday Leader. To make the mirage of a handsome dowry come true, Ummu Fanoon took the bold step to leave her five children behind and take wing to Saudi Arabia on March 24, 2010.
“It was a brother of mind who took us to an employment agency in Kurunegala. It broke my heart to see my wife go away. Our youngest son is two years old and he did not stop crying,” recalled Thaslim.
For one month there was silence from Fanoon and a little money was sent. “In the second month there was a telephone call from her. She whispered desperately that they were ill treating her and not paying her. She said that she was not allowed to even touch the telephone. She begged me to get her back. I was desperate and went to the employment agency but the only answer I got was ‘we will see what we can do.’ Each time I got a telephone call I went to the agency. My wife told me that she was forbidden to touch the telephone,” said Thaslim.
In the first week of January, Thaslim had been surprised to find his wife standing near the front of their house. “At first I could not recognise her. Her face seemed distorted and there were blood patches below her eyes. Her eyes were red and I could see that there was blood in them,” said Thaslim who found that his wife could not walk. She had to be carried into the house where she had reportedly collapsed with exhaustion and pain.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Fanoon said that her time in Saudi was miserable and unforgettable. “They hardly gave me anything to eat. When the work was done I was locked away in a dark room. I had to eat out of the garbage can. But I had to do all the work in the house and look after the children too. The children were very naughty and uncontrollable. I was looking after the child when the child fell down. I ran out of the house and all the way to the police station in fear. However the police handed me back to the house. I underwent the most traumatic experience in my life back in the house. They asked me to keep my hands on the floor and they hit them with a pole. Then they heated spoons from the electric cooker and put them on my body. They lashed me with a belt. They said they were going to skin me alive and took the skin out of my back with repeated lashings which seemed to last forever. The skin of my whole back up to the hips was taken away. Then they hit me with a chair. This shot on the back made me lose balance and I fell down and knocked my face. Then they pulled my hair out – about three or five strands at a time,” alleged Fanoon, showing bare and knotty patches in her head.
With some of her teeth broken and missing, Fanoon could not bear the agony and could not stop herself from wailing in pain. “They did not like the moaning. The master of the house made a ticket for me and dropped me at the airport and I found my way to Sri Lanka ,” said Fanoon.
Ana Fanoon Umma was admitted to the Na-Ula Hospital on January 8 at 3.30 p.m. At 10 p.m. she was transferred to the Matale Hospital . Fanoon has made an entry at the Na-Ula Police regarding her experience.
Today she sits around her home at Nayakanatte in Ambana. Her children sit around her. “They tell her that they are hungry, but there is nothing she can do for them now,” said Thaslim sadly.
They seemed to have got their mother back, but lost her in the process. In addition to the family not having a steady income, they now have a patient at home.
Fanoon cannot cook, wash and take care of her children any longer. She sits in a corner moaning in pain – waiting for the skin in her back to grow and for the heaviness in her head to get lighter. It will take a long time for her fractures to heal, but for justice to come her way will take longer.

“Cannot Understand”

When The Sunday Leader telephoned the house in which Fanoon worked and asked them their side of the story as regards the allegations made by Fanoon, the master of the house listened to the allegations and said “No speak English.” When the question was repeated the answer remained the same as the line disconnected.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lankan maid rape accused acquitted

Sunday, 02 January 2011 11:40

The Kuwait Criminal Court acquitted a resident accused of sexually assaulting his Sri Lankan housemaid. The case file indicates the maid was hired from a domestic recruitment agency, and the suspect had gone with his wife to buy clothing and asked the maid to wear them.

The housemaid claimed she refused to put the clothes on, and she went into her room but the man followed her into the room, tore her clothes and raped her. Later, the suspect reportedly sent her back to the recruitment agency to terminate her service.

The maid said she couldn’t report the case to the secretary at the recruitment agency because she was afraid, and she reported it to the Sri Lankan embassy. The lawyer of the suspect Faisal Al-Otaibi argued there were lots of unsolved puzzles in the maid’s account, which points to the fact that the case was fabricated.

He stressed the suspect’s wife had requested the maid should be sent back to the agency because she couldn’t communicate with her. (Arab Times)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Maid shows wounds to judge in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: An Indonesian house maid who has accused her female Saudi employer of stabbing, beating and burning her appeared in court for the first time yesterday and showed her wounds, an Indonesian official said.
Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, “showed the judge her injuries, especially her head,” said Diddi Wahyudi, an Indonesian consular official in Jeddah.
The Saudi woman was arrested after allegedly beating Sumiati so severely as to break bones and cause internal bleeding, putting a hot iron to her head and stabbing and slashing her with scissors.
During the hearing, the woman “denied everything, saying that the maid has beaten herself,” Wahyudi said by telephone.
• The Peninsula Newspaper

43 migrants drown off Yemen coast

ADEN: At least 43 African migrants trying to reach Yemen by boat have drowned in heavy seas off the coast, and a second boat with up to 40 Ethiopians aboard is missing, Yemen’s Interior Ministry
said yesterday.
The ministry website said three Somalis were rescued after a vessel carrying 46 people, mostly from Ethiopia, capsized, and a second boat carrying Ethiopians was missing.

• The Peninsula Newspaper

Monday, January 3, 2011

Deserted workers to fly home

Khaleej Times Online > NATION
Ismail Sebugwaawo

4 January 2011
RAS AL KHAIMAH - After spending months in harsh conditions without proper food and, sometimes, with no electricity and water in their accommodation units, around 150 Indian employees will finally be sent home this week.
These workers, who also include a few skilled employees, have been working for Anvem FZC — a ventilator fabrication and carpentry company located in Jazeera Al Hamra area of Ras Al Khaimah.
They said their company stopped operating more than two months ago after their Indian employer, Viswa Pradad Reddy, allegedly absconded from the country.
Reddy allegedly had seven companies in the UAE, including two companies in Ras Al Khaimah and five in Sharjah, but all have stopped operations.
The workers have been living in harsh conditions after their employer stopped giving them salaries for the past five to six months.
The Indians have been surviving on help from good-hearted people and friends and, sometimes, receiving food and money to buy diesel for the generator at their accommodation from Indian community organisations.
S. Prasad, social and welfare convener of Sevanam UAE, an Indian community organisation, said he got information about the situation of these workers from a friend two months ago. He visited them. “The workers told me that since the closure of their company, they had no means of survival because they have not received salaries for the last five months. They were not able to get food and other basic necessities,” he said.
Sevanam started providing assistance to them. “I also informed my friends about the situation of these people and some of them provided them with food, water and other basic necessities, including fuel for the generator which provides electricity at their accommodation units,” he said.
On many days, the workers had to prepare food using wood because they did not have money to buy cooking gas.
After managing for months without their salaries, the workers lodged a complaint against their employer with the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA) Free Trade Zone, where the company had been registered. RAKIA investigated the matter and ordered the owner to resolve the salary issue.
“One day, we received information that our employer had absconded and the machinery in his other factories were missing. That was the day our factory stopped operating,” said Mallesh Nakkadasir.
Some workers said after their company stopped its operations, the owners of the accommodation units asked them vacate.
“Some people came here ordering us to vacate the accommodation but we refused as we did not have anywhere else to go and our salaries had not been paid yet. Water and electricity supplies were disconnected from the accommodation and the situation has been really difficult,” said T. N. Reddy, a 38-year-old worker.
“Our employer must have planned his escape. He had fabrication companies in the UAE but he transferred all machinery from the other factories gradually. We do not know where he took these machines to. It is only in the Jazeera Al Hamra factory that the machines remained,” said 44-year-old Vijay Kumar.
He noted that their boss had also transferred all workers from other factories in the UAE and kept them in the accommodation units at the Jazeera Al Hamra where they have spent more than four months.
Ayyappan, 36, who had worked with the company for the last two years, said, “My monthly salary was Dh800 but I have spent five months without my salary. The situation has been difficult — no food, no medical services and other facilities. I have a wife and two children but I could not send them any money,” he added.
According to Prasad and some of the workers, RAKIA has seized the machinery on the factory premises and has provided all workers with flight tickets to India in addition to paying them two months’ basic salaries.
Thirty of the workers have been referred to the Public Prosecution after the authorities found that their visas had expired. It was also found out that the employer had not stamped visas in the passports of some of these workers. It is only after getting court clearance that these people will be sent home, said Prasad.
Sixty of the workers left for India on Sunday evening and the remaining workers are expected to leave the UAE during this week.
Officials of RAKIA were not available for comments.

India proposes hike in minimum wages for its workers

(Sajila Saseendran)

4 January 2011
DUBAI - In a move to ensure better welfare of its expatriate workforce, India has proposed a revision of minimum monthly wages for various categories of its workers employed in the UAE, Khaleej Times has learnt.
The Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi has also proposed to categorise the positions occupied by the Indian workers so as to have clarity on the new wage structure which the mission wants to implement early this year. Apart from the wages, the mission also wants to make sure that unskilled and semi-skilled workers are provided with food and accommodation by their employers.
The proposal to revise the minimum wages of Indian workers, mainly the unskilled and semi-skilled ones, comes almost three decades after the existing wages ranging from Dh600 to Dh750 were set as mandatory requirements for securing Indian missions’ attestation for recruitment process.
Confirming the move, Indian Ambassador to the UAE M.K. Lokesh told Khaleej Times that the officials from the Embassy and the Indian Consulate in Dubai were in discussion with employers and employees from different sectors to gather proper data and finalise “reference rates” for minimum wages.

India proposes hike in minimum wages for its workers in UAE
“We are also consulting other embassies and the local authorities in the UAE, especially the Ministry of Labour (MoL). Once we finalise the minimum wages after getting the feedback from all stakeholders, it will have to be implemented when the proposed web-based attestation procedure (WAP) for Indian workers comes into effect. Only then, we will be able to holistically monitor what is offered and what is actually given to workers,” he said.
Once the new rules are implemented, he said, the Indian missions here will not provide attestation for job contracts that do not meet the new wages and benefits. The missions’ attestation is required in the case of group recruitment of unskilled workers from India and when those recruited, even if skilled, have an Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) stamp on their passports.
To obtain the attestation, employers are required to submit a proposal of wages to the diplomatic missions here which should not go below the wages and minimum working and living conditions prescribed by the missions.
Dr K. Elangovan, Counsellor (Community Affairs), said the Embassy wanted to fix the new salaries after studying the wages proposed by employers to the missions and actual wages settled between employers and employees after the contract is made.
“We would like to raise the lower bar because we realised that the root cause of all the problems with workers is a lack of money since the cost of living has gone up. Moreover, the wages in India itself have increased whereas the minimum wages here have not been revised for many years, making it a strong case for review. Our efforts are to consult the stakeholders and then arrive at realistic reference wages,” said Dr Elangovan.
The ambassador said the diplomatic missions so far did not have a medium to know what was actually being paid for the workers. “When the WAP system comes into effect, the system will automatically block applications for attestation if the salaries specified for the workers do not match with what are offered to them,” he said.
He pointed out that the ambitious project can serve the purpose only when the WAP network is linked to the database of the immigration authority in India and that of the labour ministry in the UAE.
In 2008, the Govt of India fixed a minimum wage for its female household service workers in the UAE at Dh1,100 ($300) per month. Besides food and accommodation, a cash deposit of Dhs9, 200, return airfare and a mobile phone were also made mandatory for recruiting Indian maids. It is learnt that these conditions, which helped in drastically reducing complaints by housemaids, will remain unchanged when new minimum wages will be set as housemaids are not governed under the labour laws of the UAE.

Lankan maid rape accused acquitted

Sunday, 02 January 2011 11:40

The Kuwait Criminal Court acquitted a resident accused of sexually assaulting his Sri Lankan housemaid. The case file indicates the maid was hired from a domestic recruitment agency, and the suspect had gone with his wife to buy clothing and asked the maid to wear them.

The housemaid claimed she refused to put the clothes on, and she went into her room but the man followed her into the room, tore her clothes and raped her. Later, the suspect reportedly sent her back to the recruitment agency to terminate her service.

The maid said she couldn’t report the case to the secretary at the recruitment agency because she was afraid, and she reported it to the Sri Lankan embassy. The lawyer of the suspect Faisal Al-Otaibi argued there were lots of unsolved puzzles in the maid’s account, which points to the fact that the case was fabricated.

He stressed the suspect’s wife had requested the maid should be sent back to the agency because she couldn’t communicate with her. (Arab Times)