Sep 27 2016. view 719
Ask the Minister: Matters of Public Interest
A Chat With Thalatha Atukorale, Minister of Foreign Employment
Some of our readers will be very interested in getting to know the progress of the present government and the future plans of the Ministers. With the endeavour of creating awareness in this regard, Daily Mirror Life met up with some Ministers and asked them a few questions. Their answers will be carried in this weekly column. This week, we speak to Thalatha Atukorale, Minister of Foreign Employment.
What is the overall objective of your Ministry, can you explain in brief?
We are trying to do our best for our migrant workers. We are conducting awareness and training programmes so that the quality of people who go abroad will improve.Weare also trying to send skilled labour rather than unskilled labour so that they get a better wage. And we are trying to minimise the illegal departures.
What would you say is the biggest issue faces by your Ministry?
The biggest and uncontrollable problem I am having is that various people around Sri Lanka are trying to cheat innocent people into paying large sums of money promising jobs in various countries. On my public day, many people come and tell me that they have paid large amounts of money to get jobs in Japan and various other countries.Our investigating unit raids these illegal organisation whenever we get some information about their activities. I want to tell everyone who is looking for jobs abroad not to get caught to these ploys.
Then, what countries can they go to and through what channels?
To certain countries where there are government MOUs, no one has to pay anything to anybody to get employment. To Korea, agents, organisation or individuals cannot send workers. It’s a government to government agreement. With Japan, there is absolutely nothing at the moment. We are still in the process of negotiating. There are a few agents who send workers to Israel but the agriculture workers can go only through our government as it’s a G to G agreement. To the Middle East, Cyprus, Singapore and Malaysia,there are some reputed agents who send workers.In Italy, there are a few agents who get down workers but the government has no control over it. At the moment I am doing a pilot project to send 60 people to Italy. I want to start this operation officially and transparently with the consent of the Italian Government.
What kind of issues do migrant workers face when they go to the Middle East?
Some of these workers don’t know what to expect when they go to work abroad. Most agencies are only interested in making money so they don’t bother to give them any background information. Some of them can’t handle being away from their families. Most expect the work there to be like working for a family here in Sri Lanka where there is a lady and master and maybe two or three children. In countries like Saudi Arabia, the Master sometimes has three or four wives, then each of these wives will have their own children. So it’s a very large household with one worker. Our people are not used to this kind of load. That is why it is important for them to undergo the training with our Bureau, it helps them to understand the reality of what they have to face when they in this new experience.
What advice would you give prospective migrant workers in order to make life better for them?
Anyone who wants to go abroad for employment needs to register with us and go through the Foreign Employment Bureau. Only then will we have some kind of responsibility towards them. Some people are not aware of this. Sometimes family members come and make complains just to get down their mother, wife, daughter or sister. We can act on these complaints ONLY if they are registered with us. We can’t keep track of the people who are not registered. In most cases these are the people who get into trouble.
Can you tell me a little about your Training Centres?
There are many Training Centres all over the country, but I am trying to streamline this and have one Provincial Centre for Training like a Migrant Resource Centre. We have already opened up a few such places and very soon the Centres in the Sabaragamuwa and the Uva Province will be opened. Following this programme will be compulsory for all prospective migrant workers and only then will the Bureau authorise them to leave the country. This certification is valid for two years. It’s a forty day in-house training programme and besides learning many things, it gives them the opportunity to see if they can survive this new experience without their families, because they have to go away for two years and most of them have never been away from their family at all.
Cleanliness, manners, etiquette and living conditions pertaining to laws of the relevant countries, are some of the areas taught to them to help them when they get to their work places.
How does the Ministry see to the welfare of the families of these workers?
The programme is SHRAMIKA SUREKUMA and was launched in January this year. The families who are registered are divided among the Development Officers and they have to maintain a file for each family and attend to their needs. For example, if there are school going children they have to visit the teacher regularly, and see that everything is in order, and children will be sent to Daham school, church and mosque to learn their religion. If there is any medical requirement these officers have to attend to it andif they need any counselling, that will also be provided. Also in cases where there is a house being built with the funds sent by a migrant worker, it is monitored so that the money sent doesn’t go elsewhere. In spite of the awareness programmes we ran through the electronic and print media, only 220,000 from the 1.5 million families have registered for this programme.
Some people are of the view that sending our workers to Saudi Arabia is going to be stopped due to the issues our workers have had. Is that correct?
No. There has been no decision in that regard. These issues don’t happen all the time. If you take a hundred people, this type of thing could happen to one person. But we are definitely concerned about that one case or hundred cases. We had an issue last year where there was a woman convicted for adultery, and she was listed to be stoned to death. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs had to put in maximum effort to save her. The present Government’s image of being Democratic and the establishing of independent judiciary etc. contributed to save her life as they look into all these things.
What about the people going to Korea?
Korea takes workers from sixteen countries including Sri Lanka. Whatever vacancies they have they divide it among the sixteen countries. Last year we sent approximately 4999 people. The wages are very high there but it’s a four year and eight month contract. This year up to now, the numbers have exceeded 5200. The employers from there select the workers from the websites. The vacancies in Korea are for jobs that the Korean people don’t want to do, like hard labour. Learning the Korean language is compulsory for this category.
What are the issues faced with this category of workers, the ones going to Korea?
Some of these people don’t come back when they go for employment. They stay on illegally and that has become a very big issue for us. We have informed the Korean government to deport them. By some people doing this kind of illegal thing, we will lose the opportunity to send others.
Do you visit these countries to see for yourself what’s happening?
Yes, I have visited these countries to personally find out about the regularities and formalities of each of them and to meet my counterparts to request for certain things that are needed to help us streamline this industry.
There are strong allegations that development work is not happening with this government. What do you have to say about it?
The joint opposition is always blaming us and saying there is no development happening. The difference between the former regime and our government is that we don’t have Tamashas and don’t put up bill boards and make a big scene to show the development work. We are trying to do development without making it a burden to the people. We want to see that the liabilities of colossal amounts of funds that were carried forward from the last regime, will be paid off during these five years. This is the commitment of our Prime Minister. We don’t want to have corrupt development processes and wastage in the future. Now there is no ‘commission taking’ as everything has to go through the Economic Management Committee directly under the purview of the Prime Minister, so there’s transparency and accountability in all financial dealings.
This is not a time to be thinking of party politics. We need to put the country first. Our people must get used to getting things done in a way that will make the country stable and benefit our future generations.
Did you know?
- She studied at Musaeus College and Bishop’s College.
- She is a Lawyer by profession.
- She is the sister of late Gamini Atukorale, former Minister and Deputy Leader of the UNP.
Questions for the Ministers can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.