Pact on Sri Lankan workers


  • Letters
  • Wednesday, 13 Aug 2003

BY SHAHANAAZ HABIB

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Malaysia to ensure orderly and organised migrant worker assimilation. 

The agreement will also ensure certain legal protection for the workers and their obligations to the host country.  

Sri Lankan Employment and Labour Minister Mahinda Samarasing said the MoU, which was proposed by Malaysia, would be signed in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 29 when a delegation of three ministers and several businessmen visit the country.  

Mahinda Samarasing

He said he was made to understand that once the MoU was signed, Malaysia would open its doors to Sri Lanka workers, in the general category, which previously was closed to Colombo. 

These include construction workers, public works project workers and factory workers.  

“The money they earn here would be less than what they earn in Malaysia.  

“So, it is attractive for them to go,” he said, adding that the country too would benefit from the foreign exchange, which would help in reconstruction and development.  

He said many Sri Lankans who left the country two decades ago were now buying up property and investing in the country.  

Ravi Karunanayake

Remittance from foreign workers is Sri Lanka’s largest net foreign exchange earner. Last year, this totalled US$1.3bil (RM4.94bil).  

At present, there are about 3,000 Sri Lanka workers in Malaysia, almost all of whom are domestic maids.  

“We have been able to cultivate a good name in the foreign market because our people do not get involved in politics or domestic issues.  

“Wherever we went, we respected the culture and social values of those countries 

“We have not over-stayed our visa either, in the way some others have done. We know you have had some difficulty with some people.  

“This will be an opportunity for both our countries to work together for our mutual benefit,” he told a group of visiting Malaysian journalists.  

On the domestic front, Mahinda said the government was trying to put in place a highly productive human resources pool, which, in today’s competitive world could be a clincher for Sri Lanka in terms of drawing foreign investments.  

He said two Malaysian experts had come to Sri Lanka not too long ago to assist them in public sector productivity.  

He added that English and information technology had helped to give the people the cutting edge.  

The government, he said, was looking at the possibility of reducing the large number of public holidays and are talking to trade unions and employers about this.  

“People have to be reasonable if we are to increase our competitiveness and show that Sri Lanka is serious in putting in place a conducive environment to be competitive.  

“Having the largest number of public holidays is not going to be a criteria to attract foreign investors,” he said wryly.  

Sri Lanka has 22 public holidays each year, which is one of the highest in the world.  

The public sector here works a five-day week. 

Trade, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake who also met the Malaysian journalists said foreign investors should invest in peace.  

“Tell me what country in the world does not have a problem. Today you have Malaysia, with the imminent threat of international terrorism taking place. Do investors say ‘I’ll wait until the bombs do not go off’,” he asked.  

He believed Sri Lanka had come out of its problems of grappling with terrorism while some other countries were only starting to deal with this.  

“The terrorists know that there is only a limited time span left for them. LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) knows it most,” he said, describing LTTE as a ruthless terrorist organisation. 

In February last year, after 20 years of war, the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE agreed to a ceasefire and started to talk peace.  

Ravi said LTTE knew that if it reneged on the agreement, the rest of the world could not ignore it so it had no choice but to negotiate peace.  

To a question, he said Sri Lanka was keen on working with Proton “but I guess we are practical – what can we offer Proton,” he asked. 

He also said that a country like Sri Lanka needed leaders like Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew who were tough leaders but “benevolently good” to the country. 

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