ucanews.com reporter, ColomboUpdated: May 15, 2017 11:22 AM GMT
A file photo of foreign migrant workers at the end of their shift at a construction site in Dubai. The Sri Lankan government has said its citizens working abroad will be entitled to a pension in the future. (Photo by Karim Sahib/AFP)
Sri Lanka has recognized the contribution that its million-plus migrant workers make to its economy with plans to implement a pension scheme while also considering a system that allows them to vote from abroad.
The pension scheme has already been approved by the president and cabinet and the necessary documents have been directed to the draftsman department and treasury, said the Minister of Foreign Employment Thalatha Athukorala. Full implantation is expected in 2017.
Caritas, the Catholic Church's social service agency that assists ill-treated migrant workers, has welcomed the government's moves. "As an institution that works for the betterment of migrant workers, we welcome the suggestion [of a pension scheme]," said Freddi Jayawardana, a Caritas national project officer.
Labor migration has become the main source of foreign revenue for Sri Lanka. According to statistics from the country's central bank, foreign revenue from migrant workers exceeded US$7.5 billion in 2015. Some 55 percent of that number came from migrants working in the Middle East.
Former migrant worker, Sandaya Priyanthi who returned to Sri Lanka in December 2016, said it appeared the government was valuing what they had done while being understanding of the hardships that workers face abroad.
"I worked in Saudi Arabia for two years. I was asked to work nearly 16 hours a day without a rest, even for meals. It was hard to receive my salary on time," said Priyanthi.
Many migrant workers report being victim of abuse and mistreatment. According to the statistics from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, 8,366 complaints were lodged in 2015 by Sri Lankans working abroad and 312 migrant workers were reported dead. A group of 122 women, allegedly harassed by their employers in Kuwait, had to be brought back home under the guidance of foreign employment ministry on Feb. 22.
In March 2016, the government announced age restrictions for women wanting to work abroad. A minimum age of 25 was set for Saudi Arabia while for other Middle Eastern countries it is 23. For all other countries outside the Middle East the minimum age is 21.
Sunil Hadunneththi, the chairman of migrant workers' rights organization, Ethera Api (serving abroad), explained the importance of the government's move.
"Every [normal] worker in Sri Lanka has either a government trust fund or pension scheme but, when it comes to migrant workers, they only send money home to the country," said Hadunneththi.
Sri Lanka's parliament has also been discussing how to make it possible for the country's 1.7 million migrant workers to vote while abroad.
"The government has established a selection committee and the committee has met several times. It is gathering information about voting systems established in other foreign countries," said Hadunneththi, who is a member of the selection committee.