Business Times

Sri Lankan migrant workers policies praised by Bangladeshi team

Just as Sri Lankan migrant worker authorities came under intense pressure over the bizarre case of a worker having nails driven into her body allegedly by her Saudi employer, a visiting Bangladeshi team this week praised the country’s worker migration policies and safeguards.

“Sri Lanka has taken some good steps in its migration policies. The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment works very transparently. They have a power to exercise and have developed a unique complaint and reconciliation process,” Zafar Ahmed Khan, Secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare & Overseas Employment told reporters in Colombo this week. He was leading a 5-member delegation of officials from the government sector dealing with migration on an ILO-sponsored visit to learn about the migration policies in Sri Lanka and replicate, if necessary, some good practices.

Their favourable comments about Sri Lanka’s migration policy comes in the backdrop of criticism of the bureau over the case of 50-year old L.P.D. Ariyawathi who returned to Sri Lanka on August 21 with 20 nails and metal wires in her body, just five months after going to Saudi Arabia. That case has drawn worldwide attention as much as the case of Sri Lankan Rizana Nafeek, the underage domestic worker who was trafficked into Saudi Arabia and sentenced to death on June 16, 2007 for the alleged murder of an infant in her care.

That sentence is in appeal now. Mr Khan said that there are seven million Bangladeshis working overseas, mostly in the Middle East. Remittances last year totalled $10.7 billion, accounting for 13 % of GDP. “Our government has given priority to migrant employment and we can learn from Sri Lanka which is one of the leading labour-sending countries that has some good practices and is better organized than us,” he said. Female migration for jobs was banned in Bangladesh until two years ago and now there are 150,000 domestic workers overseas.

That country’s social security package for families of migrants focuses on provision of education and health which is what migrants are concerned about, unlike in Sri Lanka where building or owning a house is a priority. “Women are more responsible and send their entire money home unlike the men,” said Ms Shamsun Nahar, Joint Secretary at the Ministry. Bangladesh has 38 training centres for migrant workers with 35 more planned where course in 45 different trades are provided. These centres are different from the Sri Lankan case where it’s pre-departure training units. In the Bangladeshi case, these training centres provide training for all types of employment while paying more attention to overseas jobs.

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