Sri Lanka eyes Kuwait deal to protect migrant workers

South Asian nation to sign agreement to aid 260,000 citizens working in Gulf state
Sri Lankas flag
By Andy Sambidge
Sat 31 Mar 2012 09:40 AM

Sri Lanka is set to sign a memorandum of understanding with Kuwait to protect the rights of migrant workers in the country.

The agreement would cover the estimated 260,000 Sri Lankans employed in the Gulf state which has been criticised in the past for its treatment of foreign workers, the Indo-Asian News Service reported.

According to Sri Lanka’s Bureau of Foreign Employment, there were 14,704 complaints in 2010 alone for breach of employment contracts, non-payment of wages, physical and sexual harassment.

A quarter of its total foreign workforce of eight million works in the Middle East.

The majority of them are women and unskilled workers, working as housemaids in oil rich nations.

“There are 260,000 Sri Lankans employed in Kuwait, of which 75 percent are female workers,” Sri Lanka's cabinet spokesman Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena was quoted as saying.

The MoU is similar to those already signed with the governments of UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan on the employment of migrant workers, he said.

In January, agreements were signed in Kuwait and Bahrain in a bid to give Nepalese overseas workers better protection.

Kuwait has 40,000 Nepalese workers, with more than half of them female domestic workers, while the majority of men work in the construction industry.

Nepal's largest employer is the Gulf states, where families depend on making money overseas, but the rapid expansion of migrant labour has taken place without formal protection of workers' rights.

In 2010, the US State Department urged Gulf countries to scrap their sponsorship system for migrant workers that leaves labourers and domestic workers exposed to human trafficking and forced labour.

In a 373-page report, the department said that employers in the Gulf states exploit the widely used ‘kafala’ system to abuse workers and named Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as the region’s worst offenders.

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