Tuesday, 29 April 2008

New Deal For Sri Lankan Domestic Help


By Feizal SamathKUWAIT, Apr 28 (IPS) -

Recruiters for Sri Lankan housemaids in Kuwaiti homes, under fire for a host of problems faced by the domestic workers, have agreed to accept a greater measure of responsibility.More than 200 agents based in Colombo and Kuwait met at a hotel here last week and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that binds agents from both countries to protect domestic workers. For the first time, the agents were not passing the buck to the governments or the state-owned Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau -- as they normally do when housemaids are in trouble. In what many agree is a landmark move for the migrant worker industry in Sri Lanka, the two groups agreed that the crisis plaguing the industry where housemaids end up suffering harassment, rape, abuse, assault and non-payment of wages at the hands of employers was partly their fault. "We have to stop blaming others and take responsibility for this state of affairs. These things wouldn't have happened if we -- on both sides of the trade -- had proper contracts, proper selection of workers, etc.," noted Suraj Dandeniya, president of the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agents of Sri Lanka (ALFEA). Zain Milhan, president of the Sri Lanka Manpower Welfare Association of Kuwait (SLMWAK) agreed. "How do we get a good name? How do we become responsible, do good business? Are we concerned only about commissions and making money? Shouldn't we run a good business, a good trade?" SLMWAK represents some 90 percent of the foreign employment business in Kuwait -- Sri Lanka's second largest labour-generating market after Saudi Arabia -- and accounting for nearly 200,000 jobs. The bulk of the workers are housemaids. ALFEA is the only government recognised association representing 800 job agents in Sri Lanka. There is added significance to the agreement because Sri Lankan nationals dominate the foreign employment market in this country. Many of the job agency businesses, in which Kuwaitis are owners as per local rules, are managed by Sri Lankans. Incidentally, quite a few are housemaids-turned-managers. These agencies bring workers from many countries, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. There are more than 1.4 million Sri Lankan workers across the Middle East and many, housemaids in particular, have faced problems. to Sri Lanka's ambassador in Kuwait S.A.C.M. Zuhyle told IPS that often unsuitable people are recruited. Of the 1,057 housemaids sent home last year from Kuwait, nearly 800 cases had failed medical tests, were mentally unfit, were pregnant on arrival, or had infants at home. "They should never have been selected in the first place," Zuhyle said, adding that the majority of the problems would be eliminated if proper selections are made. A Kuwaiti agent said in one case a woman gave birth, just two days after arriving from Colombo. Another case, reported in the Colombo newspapers earlier this month, was of a maid who had given birth to a baby later found dead inside a washing machine. "It was revealed that the housemaid was five months pregnant when she came here," said Ranmalee (one name) who helps manage a Kuwaiti job agency. "Quite a few problems are also because the housemaids are not familiar with what to expect here in terms of work, environment etc.," Ranmalee said, illustrating how other Sri Lankans encourage housemaids to run away from their first employer as there is more lucrative freelance work outside. When that happens, the woman leaves behind her passport and visa documents, making it difficult for her to return home or find another legitimate job. At the Kuwaiti discussions it was revealed that there is a huge racket in medical certificates and very often, housemaids who have failed their medical examination, turn up in Kuwait with a bogus certificate. Underage workers are another problem. Rizana Nafeek, a 20-year-old migrant worker, facing a death sentence in Saudi Arabia for allegedly 'intentionally' killing a four-month-old infant while she was giving it a midday bottle feed in May 2005. Nafeek was just 17 when she first arrived in Saudi Arabia, although her age was mentioned as 23 in the passport. She told a judge at the trial that her date of birth had been falsified by the employment agency. Agents from both sides share the blame for the state of affairs. Often job agents -- in a hurry to make money -- do away with the basic role of screening applicants and making sure they are suitable in terms of capacity to work long hours and medically fit. Both Dandeniya and Milhan, heading the respective agents' associations in Sri Lanka and Kuwait, agree that there are 'bad' eggs amongst agents just like "any other profession". Milhan said there is a plan to set up a computerised network system which would blacklist bad sponsors or employers who have created problems for housemaids. "Through this all our members can check when a sponsor seeks a housemaid,'' he told IPS. On the Colombo side, ALFEA is working on ensuring that proper screening is done before housemaids are sent abroad and there is less corruption in issuing medical certificates or passports with bogus age. The new attitude among recruiting agents may have been prompted Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse comments recently about the government contemplating a ban on Sri Lankan females working as housemaids overseas due to the enormous social problems they leave behind, especially those concerning their young children. "If that (a ban) happens we are all finished," said one agent here. "What happens then to the 600,000 to 700,000 housemaids who are already employed in the Middle East? Who will give them jobs?" he asked. Remittances from Sri Lankan workers represent the largest source of foreign exchange for this South Asian island country after garment exports.


machang said...

Please visit http://www.alfea.org

ALFEA are addressing these issues and we believe we can get together and make this trade better for all especially the workers.

machang said...

Association of License Foreign Employment Agencies ALFEA That's the link again in a clickable form.