In a post-COVID-19 world: Opportunity to re-orient foreign employment
Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha has observed that despite its immediate gloom, the present situation has been an eye opener in many respects that could help correct structural, procedural and human interface incongruities in labour migration.
It also presents an opportunity for Sri Lanka to re-orient foreign employment in a post-COVID-19 world, sensitive to the ground realities in both Sri Lanka and the migrant labour receiving countries, so that the future footprint of foreign employment that Sri Lanka will provide to the world, though probably smaller, could be smarter and more sustainable.
He made these observations when he addressed the 33rd Annual Session of the Organisation of Professional Associations.
Aryasinha said the COVID-19 crisis had exposed the significant number of Sri Lankan migrant workers abroad who are undocumented/irregular, and as a result are ineligible to avail of medical and other benefits in their host countries, and are also vulnerable to deportation if identified. Also many of them non-registering with the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment was a matter of concern. It is believed that some, who might have originally registered at the point of leaving the country, might not have subsequently renewed their registration. He urged that they register.
He said that even for those who are legal, a consequence of Covid-19 has been the shrinking of the employment market, particularly with the increasing cases of unemployment, loss of contracts, non-extension of work permits and the halting of temporary freelance work, which have left many of them largely destitute. It was noted that this could lead to a serious shortfall in the numbers of migrant workers who will leave for work this year and in turn a drop in worker remittances.
Aryasinha said that the present situation could help in building more forward looking and resilient policies and strategies that can ensure sustainable and just economies. He noted that Sri Lanka which has had the opportunity to design and provide input on certain crucial regional modalities within the Colombo Process and the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, could together with the International Labour Organisation and the International Organisation for Migration, also play a greater role in the post-COVID-19 scenario for the benefit of the migrant workers, as well as the sending and receiving countries. This would include ensuring the outward flow of a better trained and skilled migrant worker, combine market research platforms to generate vocational training programmes that will serve future job markets and economic demands in countries post COVID-19, and recalibrate to inspire a workforce that meets that demand, re-formulate our education systems, and re-orient students to be a rich human resource pool for future labour markets, expedite action in enhancing cheaper, safer and faster modes of remittance flows, and ensure that migrant health becomes a cornerstone in the management of migrant populations.
He emphasised that the recent crisis has helped break the silos and ensure better intra-Governmental coordination in dealing with matters concerning migrant workers – both in Colombo, as well as in the destination countries. He said “this augurs well for future collaborative efforts as an essential element that has helped us to thrive in this unprecedented circumstance to deliver as one. We should now look forward to further strengthening and build in a strong protocol for a whole of Government approach on issues concerning foreign employment”.