Thousands of Saudi jobs at stake

Riyadh to take decision today after controversy over Ariyawathie case
By Leon Berenger

Saudi Arabia which imposed a ban on Sri Lankan labour last Sunday will decide today whether to continue it – a decision which could affect some 50,000 workers, mostly housemaids, who seek employment in the kingdom annually.

At present there are more than 500,000 Sri Lankan workers in Saudi Arabia, half of them housemaids. They generate an annual revenue of more than one billion US dollars, according to Faizer Mackeen, Secretary of the Association for Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA).

The ban was imposed by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and according to its Director General Mohamed Adhnan Al Dibyan, the kingdom’s National Recruitment Committee (SANARCOM) has advised Saudi recruitment agencies not to sign new agreements or send visas to Sri Lankans. The suspension will be in force until “the authorities finalized the matter,” he says in a communication in Arabic.

The Sunday Times has seen this directive and a certified English translation. One of the issues, according to Mr. Al Dibyan, is the recent controversy over A.K. Ariyawathie, who worked as a housemaid in Riyadh. She charged that her Saudi employer had injected needles into her body, a charge that generated wide publicity both in Sri Lanka and abroad. The Saudi government has denied the allegations.

Officials in Colombo said there were also other issues that had cropped up between ALFEA and SANARCOM. The two bodies had signed a memorandum of understanding on commissions on September 9. In terms of this, ALFEA members agreed to charge a standard rate of US $ 1,000 for each person who was sent for a job in Saudi Arabia.

However, non members or those who had quit membership in ALFEA had charged higher amounts, sometimes going up to US $ 1,800.Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau Chairman K. Ranawaka, told the Sunday Times yesterday he had so far received no official information on the matter. He said the Bureau had no role to play on matters relating to commissions. “We cannot control rates. The agents are free to charge whatever they like from their Saudi counterparts,” he said.

Reports from Riyadh said that an official Committee in the Saudi kingdom was scheduled to meet today to discuss the issue further. A decision on whether Saudi Arabia should continue to allow the recruitment of Sri Lankan labour is expected to be taken today.

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