COPE instructs Foreign Employment Bureau to fund repatriation of migrant workers

The COPE meeting held on Friday, January 22.

Sri Lanka’s Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has instructed the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) to look into the possibility of funding the repatriation of pandemic-hit migrant workers, a parliament media release said.

At a COPE meeting held on Friday, January 22, to go over an audit report on the current status of foreign employment, committee chairman, Prof. Charitha Herath had inquired about any legal impediments to the repatriation of Sri Lankan workers using the SLBFE’s current assets of Rs. 14 billion. According to the statement, the SLBFE chairman had responded that there was no obstacle to doing so.

A total of 34,721 workers, who lost their jobs due to a fall in oil prices in the Middle East and the pandemic have already requested the bureau to repatriate them.

The statement said that the COPE chairman had also pointed out the need to create a suitable model for the bureau to look into the repatriation of migrant workers ‘at a time where discussions are underway to open the country in the face of the COVID-19 and the airport is already open’.

It was revealed at the meeting that Rs. 800 million had been spent on Sri Lankan officers working in Sri Lankan embassies abroad for the year 2019. The committee informed SLBFE officials that they should look into whether the expected services are being rendered by the employees, the press release said.

The statement further said that COPE focused on the process of implementing the training courses required for foreign employment by the SLBFE as well as by the institutions under various ministries. These training courses are conducted by the National Apprenticeship and Industrial Training Authority, the National Vocational Training Authority and the Sri Lanka Youth Corps and the SLBFE.

COPE recognised the need for a formal methodology for identifying training needs in line with the current job market and an action plan for the next five years. The committee also stressed the need to enter into agreements with relevant parties and the importance of an insurance scheme that would ensure their safety and job security when sending Sri Lankan workers abroad.

The SLBFE should work together with the Foreign Ministry more responsibly to ensure the humanitarian needs and security and welfare of workers sent for foreign employment, the statement quoted COPE as saying.

A formal procedure is to be followed in recruiting officers to work in Sri Lankan embassies abroad and stressed that various irregularities have taken place in the past due to noncompliance, the release said. COPE also directed the Secretary to the Ministry to obtain a suitable recruitment procedure from the Department of Management Services for this purpose.