Under a new insurance scheme which is to go into effect on Friday, March 15, Sri Lanka will provide legal assistance to its distressed domestic workers in the Kingdom, chairman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), Amal Senalankadhikara told Arab News in Colombo.
“The agreement for the International Social Security Program (ISSP) was signed in Colombo with a Saudi company on Thursday to provide comprehensive insurance coverage for domestic workers coming to the Kingdom,” Senalankadhikara said, adding that this would apply only to new housemaids and drivers. The program has been designed to protect Sri Lanka’s migrant domestic workers and support Saudi sponsors who spend a lot of money recruiting maids from Sri Lanka.
Under this scheme, he said, legal aid will be provided to Lankan domestic aides in need of it.
The agreement was signed between Mohamed Alkahtani, CEO of ISSP and Senalankadhikara, in the presence of Sami Mohammed Al-Attar, managing director of Sami Attar Establishment .
Sami Attar Establishment is the local partner for the program in the Kingdom. The company has an office in Colombo. The chairman said that the program was introduced by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) in association with the ISSP International.
“An important feature in the scheme is that the employer will have to pay the total insurance premium without any financial burden to the employee,” the official said.
The social protection scheme is considered a win-win mechanism for both parties as the concerns of both groups are met in a comprehensive manner, he said.
Lankan men and women under the age of 50 who seek employment in the Kingdom as domestic aides will fall under the scheme.
Workers already in Saudi Arabia will be integrated into the system when their employment agreement is renewed.
In addition to legal assistance for distressed workers, other benefits to the employee would include the payment of SR 15,000 (Rs 435,000) for dependents in case of death of the worker (either due to accident or natural causes) and SR 15,000 (maximum) for hospital admission or OPD treatment for illnesses. Also in proven cases of abuse against the employee, he or she would be paid SR 15,000 (maximum) as compensation. In cases of non-payment of salaries, the employee would be compensated up to six months.
In addition to financial benefits, the coverage includes legal assistance and language translation facilities, free of charge. The chairmen said the insurance scheme also covers losses incurred by the employer in case of wrong doings by the worker. In the case of an employee vacating his or her job before the stipulated end of the contract, the employer is compensated for the initial payment they made to the employment agent (maximum of SR 8,000).
The employer has the right to claim the payment made to the employment agent plus the expenses incurred for the airline ticket needed to send the employee back home if the employee refuses to carry out his or her job functions.
The implementation of the new scheme is a follow-up to a decision made by Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Minister Dilan Perera with the Saudi Labor minister during his visit to Colombo in August last year. It was agreed at the meeting that the Sri Lankan government would appoint an international insurance company and the Saudi government would persuade the sponsor to pay the premium on behalf of his employee, who will be working as a maid in his house. “Such an arrangement will ease the problems of both the employee , employer and the two governments in case of such possibilities as repatriation of dead bodies, medical treatment and accidents,” the minister said.
A large percentage of the 550,000 Sri Lankan workers in the Kingdom are housemaids who remit a sizable sum to the national coffers of their country. Remittances from Lankan overseas workers constitute the second largest source of foreign exchange for Colombo.
The chairman said that every year some 60,000 housemaids are entering the Kingdom to work in Saudi homes. Another 40,000 Sri Lankans go to other countries in the Middle East to work as domestics.
Senalankadhikara said the Sri Lankan government recently increased the age limit of housemaids coming to Saudi Arabia to 25 in order to curtail labor problems.
The minimum age for migrating to Saudi Arabia for employment is 25 for housemaids, and all female workers should have completed 21 days of residential training and obtained the National Vocational Qualification(NVQ) level 3 certificate for “Domestic Housekeeping Assistant.” Before the change, the age limit was 21 for all countries.
He said the compulsory NVQ program, which will go into effect in May, would ensure that well-trained housemaids come to Saudi Arabia for employment.
Besides teaching them about the culture of the Kingdom and a little spoken Arabic, the maids would also be trained in handling household equipment such as washing machines, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, electric cookers, televisions and receivers.
Such training will greatly minimize the problems faced by both the employer and the employee.
Under the new program, he said maids will be trained in 25 vocational training centers all over the island with the objective of the program being to employ them as skilled workers in the foreign employment sector.
To control under-age housemaids going for foreign employment, the chairman said the SLBFE has deployed more than 50 staff members at the Colombo International Airport to assist the island’s overseas workers and to stop underage workers from leaving the country for employment.
Senalankadhikara that the government has totally stopped court wakala visas for the recruitment of housemaids to the Kingdom.
“We will not entertain such visas in the interest of the employee who is coming for employment in the Kingdom,” he said.
Court wakala visas are obtained by Saudi sponsors to recruit housemaids when the Saudi employers visit Sri Lanka for direct employment of domestics.
“Such practices came to an end on March 1, since we cannot hold anyone responsible for the maid who comes for employment in the Kingdom,” the chairman said, indicating that that his government would streamline the recruitment of maids through Saudi and the Sri Lankan agents. In such cases, he said that both agents are responsible for the employee and the employers’ problems in the host country.
He said that there are some 200 employment agents who deal with foreign employment in Sri Lanka.
“Under a trial scheme, we have categorized the job agents into categories. There is some nine such agents classified as four-star agencies and 30 in the three-star category,” he said.(Source: arabnews)