Thursday, June 21, 2018

Migrant workers who come to the City for employment face a host of challenges - here are some

I was approached by a lady today 20th June 2018, who came to my office in Biyagama to seek help in finding a place to meet with young women who have come from far off parts for jobs in the Biyagama Export Processing Zone (this would be common to many other BOI zones too,) and I implore the Government to set up a room in the plush offices that they have their administration at the entrance to each of these zones, to at least have a team of counselors to listen to their grievances and assist them. After all they are the backbone, lowest earning labor that is in short supply today, and it is only if we make their lives a little more bearable will others come to take employment. You cannot say there are no workers, when they have to live in Chicken Cages!!

There is a severe shortage of workers in the BOI zones, and common sense dictates that people don't want to be treated like animals, so the better the working and living conditions, the higher the likelihood of people offering themselves into the workforce. 

The lady who came to seek my help had lost the use of the office she had where people would come for assistance with their peculiar problem, and now that house had been sold and she has NO place to work from. 

The major points we discussed.

We must have a secure location where women can come and talk one on one about their problems, and have a knowledgable counselor type person to be able to help them with their own unique problem.

These are rural women, who for a myriad of reasons come to Biyagama (and other zones) for employment, mainly between 14 and 30, and usually single, and needing money, some with little education, but instances where degree holders have also come are frequent, due to the particular pressure they face at home.

The list of the grouses are as follows:

1                   Accommodation is very poor and expensive, with some like chicken coops. Landlords sometime only come once a month on the 10th pay day to pick the rent and don’t sight the rooms anyother time, where taps run dry, there is little water for cooking or bathing. The toilets are much to be desired and shared by many. Effectively you pay for what you get as the good ones are Rs10K a month, hardly affordable by those on Rs25K a month, and the bad ones are around Rs3K including sharing of common facilities including the rooms.

2                   Landlords turn a blind eye to harassment faced by women from men in close proximity, citing it is not their job to police the tenants. Some women who are extremely naiive fall into traps from which they cannot extricate themselves.

3                   The women DON’T KNOW their rights, or the law and are therefore exploited, when in fact they don’t have to be in a tight labor market. So employers pay less than they should, don’t deduct EPF/ETF and give minimal labor rights, and they just don’t know who to ask, coming from rural areas, ignorant of labor rights.

4                   They are unaware of the tight labor market and I explained that good jobs are available with some kind of accommodation guarantee in good establishments and it was the duty of the lady to meet these HR managers to find out if they have vacancies and send girls there. The girls themselves are unaware as was this lady today, about the fact that there are so many vacancies and no people to fill them. So present employers are holding on to them with lies, implying that if they lose their job they will be on the road, unable to pay their bills.

5                   There is a quadruple whammy, not just employers and landlords, and sometimes even shops that completely remove them of their income on the 10th when they are paid, there is a whole colony of men who live on these women by conning these innocent ones, they also effectively use them for sex and with lies keep them on a string, and then throw them out when not needed.

6                   The pressure from families for money, to help parents, and pressure to send money home, further reduces them to destitution by coming here.

There is a poverty trap they get into and I advised the whole aspect of counseling MUST be get them out of the trap they have got themselves into. There is no point coming to an EPZ to work, if they are at least unable to save a minimum of Rs5K a month, to send home or put into their savings account. It makes no sense to sacrifice, comforts, of familiar sorroundings for anything less than that. It is therefore our duty to point that out to them and get them to change their habits, or behavior to achieve this or at least change their jobs for one that allows them this minimal saving.

This is to get these people to reach a personal goal they set themselves and I suggested finding some winners who have conqured all these problems as stated above and are now fine. I wanted to get them, at least 5 to talk to these girls that to those in despair that there is light at the end of the tunnel if they change their behavior a little and to give examples of this change required to get to the goals set, as it is not impossible, especially in 2018.

In Conclusion

Once those in need know of a place they can obtain help with complete confidentiality, it is the duty of the center to provide them with a blue print of how to extricate themselves from the problem they have come to the center with. There is no point helping them if that is not the objective, and can be clearly even presented to them in a step by step manner, depending on their level of intelligencec and ability to grasp simple concepts, that some find hard. There is also the possibility to show alternatives available to them for them to improve their lives and to offer to help if they indeed ask for it only.


When this country needs more women workers see link below, it is shameful that the workers who have made the move out of their villages to work are treated so shabbily, with no system to ensure that they enjoy some basic human rights when living outside of their home environment.


Anonymous said...

The donkey also called the Director of the BOI for that zone who has a plush office, for no purpose, should give his office to counselors to meet with these women. These directors are forever bemoaning that firms are leaving the BOI because they cannot find workers.

If the Govt is spending billions on infrastructure to attract firms into the zones, spending a few thousand to house a few counselors to talk to workers about their problems and try to find solutions, will be a bigger reason for firms wanting to remain or come into, knowing there is a good social service infrastructure to take care of the workers, to ensure they have the incentive to come to work in these zones. Otherwise why would they come? To be treated worse than animals!

Ratmale,Minneriya,Sri Lanka said...

After I wrote this post, I was given an example of one problem by a person here in Biyagama. They confronted an elderly couple from Ampara, who came in search of their young daughter. First to the boarding house where she lived, and was told that she had been arrested and then to the Police Station to find her whereabouts.

She had apparently been sent to the Mahara Prison on remand, on a non bailable offence, where she was caught with a small amount drugs, trying to sell it.

They were shocked as they did not believe their daughter could ever get into that kind of track.

Upon later investigation, her life was so hopelessly miserable, with earning hardly enough to live, and not being able to send any money home, in desperation, when someone had shown her a way to earn money by selling drugs, obviously she fell for the sweet talking conman drug dealer to be one his agents!

So after being caught, still awaiting trial, what will happen to her? Her life is over, with years in prison, all because the system failed her.

Who is to blame? Parents for sending her, thinking she was safe, society for not providing the basic knowledge to workers about their rights, and responsibilities, and warning them on consequences if they err.

All I am suggesting here, is a system where we try and avoid disaster, and empower women with their rights, and show them a means to an end, and the options available.

It is a shame that in a period where workers are in short supply, people due to ignorance allow themselves to be exploited. So it is this ignorance only that I am trying to tackle

Anonymous said...

now this is a very valuable post. please take this one to the newspapers and get it seen by decision-makers as soon as possible. this must be common knowledge amongst the BOI and acted upon. your comment example about the woman should be sent to the president for an immediate pardon which will launch a new campaign for protecting these workers. you on-ground experience here is invaluable as none of these asses get out of their offices to meet with the toiling masses.

on another note, what is the proportion of males to females in the workforce of these BOI's? you can't find a female service staff in a restaurant in almost all of Colombo!