Lankan Dubai factory owner warned

By Himangi Jayasundere

A Sri Lankan owned garment factory in Dubai, has been warned by the Sri Lankan Consulate in Dubai following continuous complaints of long hours of work and harassment of employees.

An official of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) on Tuesday said that 12 girls who had fled to the Sri Lankan Consulate because they could not bear the harassment arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday.

The factory in Sharjah, established by three Sri Lankans including a top cricketer who has later resigned from the directorate employs about 150 Sri Lankans.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, A. H. M. Azwer yesterday said that he met 16-20 girls from the factory at the Dubai consulate during a recent visit. He said that he found them sleeping on the veranda of the consulate. "They fell at my feet crying and begging to be repatriated".

Minister Azwer said that the girls told him that they had been locked in a room, held by the hair and beaten by supervisors and managers. They had not been paid their wages.

He said that he spoke to a person named Navanandana who was in charge and asked him to send them back to Sri Lanka but he failed to respond positively.

The Minister said that he informed Minister of Labour, Mahinda Samarasinghe who in turn directed the Chairman of the SLBFE to take action.

The Consulate was prepared to buy air tickets for the women the cost of which would be reimbursed by the SLBFE. However under Gulf law the employer must give exit endorsement and the Sri Lankan employer refused to provide this.

The Minister said that he met a person who was very close to the ruler in Dubai and wanted to ask him to close down the factory, "but I had second thoughts because there were other girls working in the factory".

"This is very bad for the image of the country" he said adding that the "irony of the situation’ is that it is usually in the hands of their Arab employers that Sri Lankan women suffer in their search for the illusive pot of gold in the Middle East."

Another Sri Lanka visitor to the consulate said that the girls had to work 16-17 hours and the heavy workload had claimed one life. The girls were allowed to go out only one day a month and for this they had to pay Dhs 10/-.

According to an official of the SLBFE the Dubai Consulate has received several complaints about the factory and the company was at one point suspended for three months. He said that officials of the consulate have spoken to the management and the latter have agreed to cut down on the number of work hours. The factory is also to undergo reorganisation which will include discharging some supervisors.