By Shezna Shums
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment has not received any reports of Sri Lankans being affected by the riots that have erupted in several countries in the Middle East.
Following the success of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt riots are now being reported in Bahrain and several other countries including Libya. During the uprising in Egypt the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment temporarily stopped Sri Lankans from seeking employment there. This ban is still in effect but is to be reviewed soon.
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, Additional General Manager, L.K.Ruhunuge told the Daily FT that no decision has yet been taken with regard to Bahrain and that people could still seek employment in the country.
"The Sri Lankan embassy in Kuwait, which oversees the Sri Lankan workers’ issues in Bahrain, has not reported any problems affecting the Sri Lankan community there," said Ruhunuge.
"There is a honourary consulate in Manamar, Bahrain and they too have not reported any problems faced by the Sri Lankan community due to the riots that have broken out in that country," said Ruhunuge. This was the latest situation reported to the bureau as of yesterday morning.
"We are not thinking negatively about this, like how Egypt settled after the protest; but the problems in Bahrain are still in the infancy stage. Currently there is approximately 1. 5 million Sri Lankans working in the whole of the Middle East region," said Ruhunuge.
The foreign employment industry is ranked the second largest earner of foreign exchange in the Sri Lankan economy.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, U.A.E. and Jordan are where a majority of the migrant labour find employment and according to statistics maintained by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, 86% of the Sri Lankan labour market has been absorbed by these countries. The Sri Lankan migrant workers who are in domestic employment in these countries have earned a substantial amount of Foreign Exchange for the country; but most of the money earned has been spent on the social cost and other related problems and this has hampered the optimum contribution of benefits to the economic development of the country. More over unskilled labour is poorly paid and has a limited bargaining power in labour markets.
Middle East countries face an acute shortage of skilled labour in their labour markets and consequently skilled labour is paid higher salaries than unskilled workers. Sri Lanka has not been able to get the best benefit of this demand because of the dearth of skilled labour in the country.
Unemployment in general and male unemployment in particular is a burning issue in Sri Lanka which calls for the exploitation of employment opportunities available in plenty in the Middle East.
Sri Lankan migrant labour in the Middle East is predominantly women and they have been virtually forced to obtain jobs as housemaids there because of the lack of employment opportunities in this country.