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)