Saudi ban won’t hinder Lankan jobs

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Can Sri Lanka afford to lose its share in the lucrative Saudi job market close on the heels of EU denying GSP plus trade facility?

The government has received an assurance that the Saudi Arabian government hasn’t decided to close the door on Sri Lankan housemaids.

 This follows media reports that ‘SANARCOM’, an umbrella organisation of recruiting agencies in Saudi Arabia with the Council of Saudi Chambers has called for a ban on housemaids due to Sri Lanka rejecting an agreement between the Saudi organisation and the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA) to stabilise job market.

 A spokesperson for the External Affairs Ministry told The Island that External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris had discussed the issue with the Saudi Arabian embassy in Colombo recently. The official said that the embassy had assured Minister Peiris that the Saudi Arabian government didn’t endorse SANARCOM move.

ALFEA spokesman M. Faizer Mackeen yesterday said that the association would like to meet Minister Peiris to discuss the issue regardless of the assurance received by the External Affairs Ministry. The ALFEA recently had an opportunity to meet Deputy External Affairs Minister Geethanjana Gunawardena. Responding to a query by The Island, Mackeen said that failure to tackle the issue would cause loss of revenue to the national economy.

Mackeen alleged that ALFEA had no option but to reach an agreement with the Saudi agency to prevent a small group of persons from exploiting the Saudi job market at the expense of the country. According to him, under their agreement ALFEA members would have received $ 1,000 for each housemaid, whereas the Saudi agency received $ 465.

Mackeen said that their agreement could have been operational on Sept. 10, if the government didn’t interfere with the process. He said that Indonesia, too, had a similar agreement with the Saudi agency.

An irate ALFEA official said Saudi Arabian agencies recently decided to cease recruitment of Lankan domestic workers after Sri Lanka sharply increased the costs of supplying workers.

He alleged the government had turned a blind eye to the crisis caused by those who manipulated the entire process for their financial gain.

 According to him, the ALFEA had brought the deteriorating situation to the notice of the President’s Office recently.

The ALFEA said that local job agencies, some with patronage of state agencies, had triggered the crisis by increasing the payment of sub agents/middlemen commission for a domestic worker from Rs. 80,000 to Rs. 120,000 forcing the Saudi Arabian employers to meet the additional cost.

 The agency said that unilateral action on the part of these agencies had pushed the recruitment fee from US$ 1,100 to between US$ 1,800 to US$ 2,000, thereby making it extremely costly for Saudis to recruit Sri Lankan workers.

 ALFEA alleged that the government had failed to study the issue closely and take remedial action. Mackeen said: "The issue is why allow some unscrupulous persons to create an artificial shortage in the job market and make profits at the expense of the entire industry. Unfortunately those who are responsible for regulatory process seemed to be either ineffective or supportive of corrupt practices."

Mackeen said that those who boast about foreign remittance by Sri Lankan workers should intervene to save jobs in Saudi Arabia.

The External Affairs Ministry told The Island that Saudi jobs were safe and there was no reason for the ALFEA to be concerned about Sri Lanka’s share in the overseas job market. Sources said that ALFEA shouldn’t cause further problems instead work with relevant agencies to meet any eventuality.  

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