Lack of logistical and legal provisions Migrant workers call for voting rights | Sunday Observer

Lack of logistical and legal provisions Migrant workers call for voting rights

9 February, 2020

Migrant workers continue to receive step-motherly treatment when it comes to ensuring their rights and one such concern is the deprivation of their voting right, a fundamental right of every citizen, a forum on rights of migrant workers organised by the Community Development Services (CDS) in Colombo recently noted.

Sri Lanka’s migrant workforce comprises between 1.5 to 1.9 million workers of which over 90 percent are employed in the Gulf Corridor remitting around US$ 7 billion each year.

However, according to research, a large segment of this workforce is denied their voting rights as there is no provision for them to cast their vote unless they return to the country during an election.

There had been seven Presidential elections since setting up the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment in 1985. However, a large segment of the migrant workers have been denied the right to vote at these elections.

It was also noted that most often work contracts do not facilitate the right to take leave to come to Sri Lanka to cast their vote resulting in a large portion of the votes not being cast.

As options for voting, the panelists said arrangements could be made for a postal voting system, embassy or consulate office voting, electronic voting, in person voting or proxy voting.

It was highlighted that the voting rights of the migrant workers need to be paid attention to, in the forthcoming election cycles.

As stressed by speakers the ordeals of labour migration across the globe has gone unnoticed for decades leaving the hapless worker to undergo untold mental and physical pain.

The lack of information and the communication gap among authorities and the expatriate workers has aggravated the situation according to studies.It was noted that media reports at this end do not capture the untold story of the other end.

“We need to highlight and unravel the stories of migrant workers

in the context. Maintaining records of workers has been an uphill task for the authorities,” Andrew Samuel of Community Development Services.

However, the need for a data base of every migrant worker to track them and mediate when need arises was highlighted at the forum.

It was also brought to light that family members could be unaware that their member had been detained due to the communication gap between the detection centre and the residential country of the worker.

Speakers said there is no information as to why workers had to abandoned their jobs, the working conditions, the employer and the treatment meted out to them.

It was noted that the website of the SLBFE lacked pre-migration information such as the contract signed between the employer and employee, the salary, the work place, and the nature of work.

It was also brought to light that successive governments in Sri Lanka had not taken adequate steps to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking in the country.

Sri Lanka has maintained mixed law enforcement efforts to address human trafficking — while it convicted more traffickers, it issued suspended sentences to some of those convicted, initiated significantly fewer prosecutions, and did not take sufficient action to investigate allegations of official complicity in trafficking.

Section 360(C) of the penal code criminalised sex trafficking and labour trafficking and prescribed penalties of two to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine, which were stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape.

The national labour migration policy of Sri Lanka, the key policy document pertaining to labour migration came into force in 2008 to enhance the welfare and protection of migrant workers and their families.