Services for migrant workers

Tuesday, 8 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

MIGRANT workers who have suffered injuries are to be provided healthcare upon their return to the country by the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau (SLFEB). According to media reports the SLFEB is making arrangements for migrant workers to obtain care from hospitals near their homes and can even obtain emergency services when required.  

While this attempt to take a humane view of the suffering endured for the most part silently by many migrant workers is laudable one would think that the first instinct would be to work harder to keep these people from getting injured in the first place.

Specifics of how much each worker would be given as part of this scheme was not mentioned.  Neither was the duration of the facility mentioned. Inattention to finer details can not only rob people of the benefits that they are entitled to but can also open the scheme to corruption, eventually making the venture unsustainable.

Services that are provided for the migrant workers have to be done so with their needs in view but these needs can also be minimised if brain drain is reduced. However given the current enthusiasm for exiting the country in order to earn more money and provide better lives for their loved ones, migration patterns are unlikely to change significantly in the short term.

However, there is a need to encourage more qualified people to go abroad so that they will be treated better and can earn more money to be sent home. Yet these are the same people that Sri Lanka desperately needs in the rebuilding effort. Balancing out these conflicting needs will be a challenge for human resource management in the country, especially with the fresh challenges that have washed up since the beginning of this year.

Providing better safeguards for migrant workers, especially in Middle Eastern countries, is important. Perhaps the SLFEB together with the External Affairs Ministry can work to strengthen legal and diplomatic ties so that workers who are injured while on duty can obtain proper compensation from those responsible rather than taxing their home country to do so. Even though this might seem too hopeful to be practical severely injured workers will need extensive assistance over a long period of time offsetting any savings that they would have accumulated during their service time.

Horrific stories have been related time and again in the media but no redress being received by the victims. This clearly shows that the welfare of migrant workers rests with the country of the worker at least in realistic terms. A welfare programme that directly targets the workers and assists them to make it sustainable through at least part contribution from the migrant worker community might ease the burden of the government in this instance. More affluent workers can assist their less fortunate colleagues and it could become a platform for lobbying for worker-rights, especially since this is a common phenomenon across other countries as well.

With an estimated 1.2 million people needing assistance from floods it would be impractical to expect the government to allocate significant funds for injured migrant workers. Therefore it is up to the SLFEB to broad base the programme as much as possible so that it can assist the needy and yet be sustainable to benefit people continuously.