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Gratitude in short supply

Gratitude in short supply

29 Nov 2023

 During the height of the economic crisis, when the Sri Lankan Government was failing to provide basic necessities such as food, medicine, fuel, cooking gas and uninterrupted electricity, the island was spared from a worse fate due to the continued inflow of dollar remittance from Sri Lankan migrant workers and expats living overseas. They were Sri Lanka’s safety net, and will likely continue to be so for years to come. For Sri Lanka, remittances from migrant workers are a major source of foreign exchange inflow.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), on average, Sri Lanka receives United States dollars ($) 7 billion from remittances per year, constituting approximately 8% of the country’s GDP. This was especially true for the 2015-2019 period. According to the Central Bank (CBSL), this year, as of August the cumulative figure from January is $ 3,862.7 million ($ 3.8 billion). The figure is an increase of 74.4% from what was sent home during the same period last year. This, while the economic crisis forced more than a million Sri Lankans to venture overseas in search of greener pastures last year. Of the nearly 1.1 million of those who left Sri Lanka, nearly 311,000 were leaving the country as migrant workers. Data shows that a total of 311,269 have left the country for foreign employment in 2022, nearly 60% of the migrant workers are concentrated in the semi-skilled and low-skilled categories, and female participation in foreign employment is highly concentrated in the semi-skilled category, while male participation is concentrated in the skilled category. The migrant workers also have to deal with the long-standing “job agency mafia” which exploits them endlessly. Not a week goes by without the press having to report about mistreatment, lack of coordination and gross negligence on the part of the “job agencies” which has led to serious hardships, injuries and even death of migrant workers.  

However, it is indeed a shame that the state sector, which is bloated, inefficient and corrupt, have not done their duty to the hard-working Sri Lankan migrant workers by ensuring the welfare safety net they deserved, not being implemented effectively.

Yesterday (28), Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara charged that despite the Government having taken several decisions pertaining to the welfare of migrant workers, the measures are yet to be implemented. Nanayakkara also alleged that several state officials did not support the decisions made in this regard, and instead served as “obstacles” against their implementation. “When we began implementing various proposals on behalf of migrant workers, we did not find any support; instead, we were faced with obstacles. We had to fight with certain officials in order to give some sort of relief to our migrant workers,” the Minister said. He also blamed key stakeholders such as the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), other banks, including state banks, and officials in the Treasury and Sri Lanka Customs for not taking necessary measures to enact the welfare relief which the Cabinet of Ministers had approved nearly 14 months ago.

The Minister stated that the decision taken more than a year ago to increase the duty relief given for migrant workers to purchase goods at airports, proportionate to the foreign exchange that they have generated, is yet to be implemented, this despite the President having issued a gazette in this regard. The Minister blamed Customs officials for not implementing the proposal.

What a shame. state officials, in the Sri Lanka Customs, the CBSL or any other state agency, who had their pay padded by the dollars earned by the sweat of the brow of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, over a period of an year, failed to enact Cabinet-approved relief for them. Where is the gratitude we Sri Lankans often brag about being inalienable from our “culture”? How can the State sector, with its many shortcomings, who get exorbitant overtime pay, access a massive public holiday calendar and enjoy assorted perks and benefits at the taxpayers' expense, deny the fellow hard-working Sri Lankans, who have none of those benefits, the relief the Government has promised them. No wonder there is such a low opinion of the public sector and agencies like the Sri Lanka Customs. Shame.  

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