Sri Lanka wants maids to go to Europe, avoid Gulf

August 17th, 2008 - 12:02 pm ICT by IANS  

By Shubha Singh
Colombo, Aug 17 (IANS) The Sri Lankan government is seeking to encourage women migrants to look for jobs in European countries instead of in the Gulf because of persistent complaints of mistreatment and poor working conditions. Over 100,000 women workers go abroad to work as house maids every year, but the Sri Lankan government is now looking at ways for women workers to acquire a higher grade of skills to make them eligible for short-term work contracts in a new set of countries.

The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, the nodal agency for overseas workers, plans to direct migrant job seekers to countries in the European Union, Canada, Australia, South Korea and Japan where there is a need for semi-skilled and skilled workers.

The main destinations for the women workers have been Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. As the skill shortages are likely to increase in the European countries, temporary migration of workers is being seen as a solution to the labour shortages there.

The need for foreign workers will grow over time, especially as the young adults in these countries are reluctant to take up the relatively low paid and labour intensive jobs.

The Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment received over 3,000 complaints last year from Sri Lankan women working as housemaids for breach of contract, harassment and unpaid or underpaid wages. Earlier this year, the Sri Lanka government had decreed a rise in pay for household workers by 15 percent in their work contracts, but the complaints of harassment and non-payment of full dues have continued.

The continuing round of complaints is forcing the Sri Lankan authorities to look for different means of livelihood for women migrants. Sri Lankan women workers send back a significant part of the $2.5 billion that Sri Lanka receives as remittances from overseas migrant workers. Remittances are a major foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka.

According to Saritha, who returned after a two-year stint in Singapore, because of the difficult conditions in Sri Lanka, families had to depend on money sent by relatives.

Destinations like Singapore and Hong Kong require additional training and skills, but working conditions are better there for household help than in the Gulf countries, Saritha explained, as wages depend on the amount of work to be done, the size of the house, number of residents, the hours of work and the maid’s experience.

Saritha would not like her younger sister, Vanitha, to go to the Gulf countries as a maid though the labour agent has offered her a good deal.

“There are too many stories about ill-treatment and not paying full wages,” she said, adding: “I can pay for training for Vanitha from my savings so she gets a better job.”

Sri Lanka already has training institutes like the Mount Lavinia school for maids in Colombo which prepare women migrants for jobs as house maids in different countries, giving them practical training and lessons in cultural sensitivity.

All women going to countries in the Gulf region have to take a basic languages course and learn cooking and handling household appliances. Several countries in Europe require nurses and healthcare providers for tending their ageing population.

There is a shortage of caregivers for a large section of elderly people who live on their own but whose mobility is restricted due to age. A special training course can prepare prospective migrants with requisite training and certification to go to Europe on fixed time contracts.

(Shubha Singh can be reached at shubhasingh101@gmail.com)

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