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The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (‘SLBRE’) warned foreign recruitment agencies to adhere to the new set of regulations, or face consequences that could include the cancellation of their operational licences, according to the Sunday Times Sri Lanka. The new regulations have been developed to protect vulnerable domestic workers seeking work in the Middle East. The recruitment industry has hit back claiming that it would continue to protest until the issue was re-addressed.
Harischandra Bategoda, the general manager of SLBRE, told the Sri Lankan Sunday Times that the new regulations, which include a National Vocational Qualification (VNQ) test for females taking up placements in the domestic sector in West Asian countries, was in the best interests of the worker, and that the industry should cooperate towards this end, instead of protesting.
He added that it was now compulsory for female domestic workers to obtain an endorsement from the local police, Grama Sevaka (a village leader), and the respective Divisional Secretariat (regional administrative sub-unit), before final approval could be obtained from the SLBFE.
“All this will have to be done together with the assistance of the respective recruiting agent, who will have to take the ultimate responsibility”, Mr Bategoda said.
He said that SLBFE officials, attached to the respective DS offices throughout the country, have also been tasked to visit the homes of prospective female domestics heading for West Asia, to assess their domestic situation; such as their family status, and who will be the guardian of their children, if any, when the mother leaves the country.
The SLBFE has adopted these measures in part to mitigate any blame that could be attributed to them following any incidents against these workers in foreign countries, as has been the case in the past. There have been calls, in some sectors, to stop domestic workers from Sri Lanka working in West Asia, as a direct result of exploitation and abuse.
Mr Bategoda commented: “However; this is a democracy and we cannot stop a citizen, whatever their gender, from leaving the country for employment, or otherwise. However; efforts are currently under way to regulate the recruitment system and bring an end to ad hoc placements that have often led to various issues; such as the recent beheading of [a] Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Rafiq in Saudi Arabia.”
“But the industry feels that all this would hurt their business. This should never be the case. All stakeholders must work together, so that our citizens who take up employment overseas in the domestic sector or whatever, are treated with a certain degree of dignity. The industry must have a re-think on their current position,” Mr Bategoda said.
Faizer Maickeen of the Association for Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) told the Sunday Times that the additional bureaucratic red tape will only go to hamstring the progress of the industry, and by association, Sri Lanka would lose out on the foreign job market.
“Not only that, the country also stands to lose vital foreign exchange, at a time when the economy is taking a free fall. At the moment, Sri Lankan expatriate workers remit something like USD 6 billion annually, with USD 2 billion from domestic workers alone,” Mr Maickeen said.
He added that another regulation requires the relevant recruiting agent to be present at an inquiry, whenever there is a complaint from a domestic worker in the area where the persons lives.
“This is not practical, as an agent could be intimidated and even [physically] harmed by the complainant’s relatives and fellow villagers during such inquiries, which are often of a sensitive nature”, he said.
He added that the protest campaign against these new regulations began on Tuesday, when hundreds of licenced recruiting agencies, together with their support staff, held a protest outside the SLBFE office in Battaramulla.
“We sought a meeting with Foreign Employment Minister Dilan Perera, but he was not available, and instead, a memorandum was handed over to SLBFE Chairman Amal Senadhilankara, who promised a response at the very earliest [opportunity],” Mr Maickeen said.