The “Asia – Gulf States Regional Dialogue on Standard Terms of Employment for Migrant Domestic Workers” was held at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel from 3-4 December 2013 sponsored by UNWomen and the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion & Welfare. Over 15 countries from the Asian and Gulf region participated at the meeting. Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs addressed the participants at the opening ceremony as Chief Guest. The Minister highlighted the immense role played by migrant workers who leave Sri Lanka’s shores for temporary employment overseas and contribute towards the economic growth of receiving states. Prof. Peiris noted the vibrancy of the Sri Lankan economy was due to the invaluable service that migrant labour played with remittance flows amounting to some US 7 billion that surpassed all export earnings from commodities such as garments, tea and rubber.
Prof. Peiris highlighted that approximately 52 million migrant workers work outside their homes of which approximately 82 percent of them are women with over 40 percent being from Asia. The Minister emphasized that the regional dialogue between sending states and receiving states was a timely initiative and noted the importance and commitment played by 6 of 8 receiving states participating at the meeting in Colombo. He appreciated the contribution of UNWomen towards this dialogue and underscored the commitment that Sri Lanka placed on working together to find collective solutions to a number of issues and challenges confronting migrant workers and identified four areas to focus on. Firstly, the Minister noted that the efforts to work on standard terms for employment was a vital necessity and its adoption would solve close to 90 percent of the problems faced by workers and that a rights based approach should be an important essential feature in the dialogue. Secondly, the role of training and skills upgrading needed to be promoted. The Minister appreciated the work of the Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion & Employment in enhancing skills of migrant workers and noted that Sri Lanka was steadily improving its labour force through residential workshops to diversify; a positive example being in one gulf country, where Sri Lankan migrants were playing a leading role in the banking sector.
The Minister noted the third important area was in the field of insurance and protection of migrant workers. In this regard, he acknowledged the close cooperation between the two Ministries in several countries overseas through diplomatic missions to safeguard the welfare of migrant workers. Sri Lanka’s role to safeguard and protect migrant workers was evident in Sri Lankan being elected to Chair the Colombo Process for the next two years. Lastly the Minister noted that blanket bans of migrant labour would not be practical, but that more discussions on movement of labour should be undertaken and the need to focus on special protection and attention to particular segments of the labour force, and he wished the participants every success in their deliberations to find collective solutions to issues faced by migrant workers.
Mr. Ramanathan Balakrishnan, Deputy Regional Director of UNWomen in Thailand gave opening remarks on the work of UNWomen and Dilan Perera, Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion & Welfare outlined the close cooperation of Sri Lanka with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International Organization of Migration (IOM) and highlighted the key role that the migrant worker played in the economic development of Sri Lanka.