Labour migration in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

The subpolicy was handed over to the minister Hon. Thalatha Athukorale, Minister of Foreign Employment.
Governance of Labour Migration is one of the key regional and national priorities and figures prominently in ILO’s work in Sri Lanka. The activities relating to migration is operationalized through priority outcome 3, Social inclusion and the establishment of social protection floor of the Decent Work Country Programme for Sri Lanka 2013-2017.

International labour migration from Sri Lanka has been on the increase during the last three decades, especially with the opening of temporary employment opportunities in the Gulf. Recent estimates suggest that over a million migrants work abroad while the annual reported outflows are about 200,000 persons. Over the years, foreign employment has generated substantial inflows of remittances and, acted as a safety valve for local unemployment and has opened up overseas employment opportunities for many women who may not have been active in the local labour force, though in low paid occupations such as domestic work.

With almost three decades of experience with foreign employment, Sri Lanka has developed a mature overseas employment administration system, starting with the establishment of the Bureau of Foreign Employment in 1985. Despite administrative and legal regulations, laws and services, Sri Lanka continues to face a number of challenges in the field of foreign employment -the concentration of labour migration in low skilled categories dominated by female workers with related issues of protection, low remuneration resulting in low remittances, the narrow range of destinations with high dependence on the Gulf countries as the major destination remains a major challenge for the Government of Sri Lanka

The Ten Year Development Plan and the National Plan of Action for Decent Work have recognized the importance of labour migration for the economy. The Ten Year Plan highlights ‘safe, skilled migration’ as the basic strategy to guide overseas labour migration. The creation of a separate ministry for foreign employment promotion in February 2007 – the Ministry for Foreign Employment Promotion & Welfare is another indication of the priority assigned to labour migration in Sri Lanka. Yet, the social costs of migration in terms of impact on families and children left behind have been highlighted by many. Thus the delicate balance between promotion of overseas employment and protection of national workers abroad is a continuous challenge.

A systematic policy to maximize development benefits of migration despite inflows of migrant remittances of over one billion dollars for many years has been a long felt need. At the request of the Government of Sri Lanka ILO provided technical and financial assistance to the Government in formulating a National Labour Migration policy for Sri Lanka, which was launched in October 2008, followed by the Sub policy and National Action Plan on Return and Reintegration of Migrant Workers Sri Lanka on the December 2015 .

The policy focuses on three major areas: governance of the migration process, protection and empowerment of migrant workers and their families, and linking migration and development processes and articulates the State's commitment to ensuring a labour migration process that adheres to principles, and guidelines enshrined in international instruments and international good practices. It aims at developing a long-term vision for the role of labour migration in the country within the frameworks of the overall development strategy for the country and the National Policy for Decent Work in Sri Lanka.

A unique feature is that the formulation of the policy was guided by the ILO’s Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration and has been developed through an extensive consultative process among all concerned stakeholders. The Policy also contains a detailed work plan outlining action to deal with important policy issues that have been identified.

ILO provides on going technical assistance to the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion & Welfare in implementing their work plan.