Employees shunned strike to stabilise the economy - Manusha Nanayakkara | Sunday Observer

Employees shunned strike to stabilise the economy - Manusha Nanayakkara

19 March, 2023

Clear indication that we can move forward:

Pay cut for employees who did not report for duty:

Nearly 64 vehicle permits issued to Sri Lankan migrant workers:

There are no fake job agencies:

Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara said they appreciated the decision taken by the vast majority of the working class not to extend their support to Wednesday’s trade union action, giving a strong signal to those who deliberately attempt to destabilise the country.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the stand taken by the state and private sector employees was a clear indication that we can successfully move forward by setting aside opportunistic elements who attempt to realise their narrow political gains. He said both State and private sector employees who want to stabilise the country reported to work and extended their support towards the Government’s ongoing program to overcome the current crisis. Only those who seek to sabotage the current progress achieved and create an unstable political atmosphere in the country joined that failed trade union action.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: Although the JVP and SJB appealed to the Sri Lankan expatriates not to send money to Sri Lanka, there has been a 98.8 percent increase in remittances sent by migrant workers. What is your comment on this?

A: First we should thank our migrant workers because they realised the urgent requirement of the country without listening to mere political speeches made to deliberately put the country into difficulties. Therefore, they sent money to Sri Lanka. Actually, this is not because of our extraordinary talent.

The credit must go to the Sri Lankan expatriates as they think of their country. We only made an appeal to them to send their money and they accepted it. As the Government, we took measures to provide them with some incentives. Somehow, they fulfilled their responsibility on behalf of the country. It is very obvious that despite certain sections attempting to infuse various political ideologies into the minds of the people, they have no power to change the people. The people always make correct decisions by thinking of their country.

Q: Sri Lankan migrant workers who remitted foreign exchange through official channels from May 1 to December 31, 2022 have been allowed to import an electric vehicle through a permit granted by the Government. Could you explain?

A: We have already issued nearly 64 vehicle permits to Sri Lankan migrant workers. This figure is increasing daily. Even today requests are made for permits to import electric vehicles. At present, 9 electric vehicles have been brought to Sri Lanka. Another 20 vehicles will be imported to the country within the next few weeks. A lot of money has come to Sri Lanka through this move as well. You could see the honour and recognition we give to our Sri Lankan migrant workers. At present, only Sri Lankan expatriates are allowed to import an electric vehicle. Therefore, this has given them a big impetus. In addition, a new VIP gate named ‘Hope Gate’ has been opened at the Bandaranaike International Airport exclusively for Sri Lankan migrant workers.

Q: Are we getting more employment opportunities for youth in the Middle East, Korea and Japan? Are you negotiating with any other countries to find overseas job opportunities for our youth?

A: We are negotiating with so many countries to provide overseas job opportunities for our youth. We are negotiating to increase our job opportunities in Korea and Japan. In addition to increasing job opportunities in Japan, we have implemented a massive program to increase the quality of our employees sent to Japan. Japan has extended its support on debt restructuring and obtaining the IMF credit facility due to the close bilateral relationship we maintain with them.

At present, we are also helping Japan to overcome the issues pertaining to their labour force. So, it is a win- win situation for us. We give our fullest support to them as it is beneficial to both of us. Therefore, we have made a lot of progress in getting employment opportunities in Japan. We will send youths to the countries where we can get more income. However, still we get the largest amount of money from Middle East countries.

Instead of sending semi-skilled workers, priority will be given in future to send more skilled workers to the Middle East. Arrangements will also be made to send people under various professional categories. New avenues are also being opened in so many countries such as Romania, Italy, Australia, US and Canada which were not opened to us earlier. At present, we are having bilateral discussions with these countries towards this end.

Q: What is the action you are taking with regard to fake job agencies that dupe foreign job seekers?

A: Actually, there are no fake job agencies. If there are such agencies, they will definitely be traced by us. Some individuals who don’t have any job agencies are engaged in this job racket. They just show some bogus connections and deceive foreign job seekers. It is not only foreign job seekers, most of our people are being misled by falsehoods. Politically too, if any falsehood is made, the people are misled. Nowadays too, the people are misled to some falsehoods created by some Opposition politicians. On our part, we have to bring them before the law.

Nearly 10 to 15 errant job racketeers are arrested per day. However, it is very rarely, the media reports on these incidents. If the media exposed these incidents, it would put an end to the people being deceived by these racketeers. Then the media won’t have enough news to write. Therefore, the continuous arrests made by us are not reported. Sometimes, I don’t know whether the information is not properly channeled to the media from our side

Q: Many Sri Lankan women who go abroad for employments face many problems including physical and sexual abuse, non payments of wages and other form of harassments. What are the steps being taken to address these issues?

A: Last year 31, 2000 people went abroad for employment but there were not less than 1000 complaints. It means the complaints are less than one percent. If Sri Lankan expatriates face any labour disputes with their employers, relevant institutions and labour units at our embassies will intervene to sort out such issues. Majority of those who face these issues have gone abroad through various illegal channels and they have not been registered in the Foreign Employment Bureau. These persons seek our help only when they face an issue. However, we will look after their grievances as well.

Q: Many analysts have predicted a massive brain drain if more skilled workers and professionals leave overseas for jobs. How do you strike a balance between these two?

A: According to our statistics, it is not true that more professionals have gone abroad. Most of those who have gone for overseas jobs are skilled and semiskilled workers. Only a very small number of professionals have gone for overseas jobs. The issue is a certain section of professionals who have studied in our universities and held top portfolios in State institutions sell their properties and migrate to foreign countries. This is migration and this is not going for overseas employment.

They go for permanent migration. Actually, brain drain occurs because of them. Those who go for overseas employment will return to the country. It would pave the way to create a cycle of migration. They will impart new knowledge and use it when they come back to Sri Lanka. When a large number of skilled workers go for overseas employment some gap will be created in certain sectors. That would pave the way to train the unskilled labour force who have not gained any vocational training and make their contribution to the labour force.

Most of the countries which have collapsed used a cycle of migration to rebuild their countries. We should also give priority to promote this concept and we have long term plans for this purpose.

Q: Trade union action organised by certain trade unions with the backing of some political parties on Wednesday turned into a flop. Some say the real motive of their trade union action was to eliminate the gains made so far by the Government and President Ranil Wickremesinghe. What is your point of view on this?

A: If a few sections attempted to launch that trade union action, the majority of those who joined it were not subjected to pay higher taxes. Actually, they came to fulfill a political requirement. It was clearly evident on Wednesday that the number of employees who can be used to realise political agendas was very few. In a situation where the rupee is strengthened and IMF facility is to be given and gas, fuel and 24-hour electricity is provided, those who want to stabilise the country reported to their work and extended their support to the Government towards its ongoing program to overcome the current crisis. Only those who want to sabotage the current progress achieved and create an unstable political atmosphere in the country joined that trade union action.

Otherwise, that was not a trade union action launched by the working class and that was a politically motivated strike. However, those who launched that trade union action were successful on their part as they could create a disaster and decrease the Government’s revenue to some extent by dragging the country backwards even for a couple of days.

Q: The Government will investigate candidates including graduates, applying for jobs and promotions in all sectors of the public service whether they have been engaging in anti-Government activities. Would you like to comment?

A: The Labour Ministry has decided to impose a day’s pay cut on all employees who didn’t report to work and joined the trade union action on Wednesday. The necessary legal action will also be taken against them by the Ministry. In future, steps will be taken to prevent the attempts made by certain elements to disrupt the functions of state institutions based on their political agendas. It is something else to resort to a trade union action regarding some issue in their respective profession. However, these are politically motivated trade union actions. As the Labour Minister, I will extend my support for genuine trade union actions. However, those who join the politically motivated trade union actions and anti-Government protests will not be permitted to join State sector jobs.

Q: There have been lots of speculation that some SJB MPs are planning to cross over to the UNP and Government on the invitation of you and Minister Harin Fernando. What is the progress with regard to this?

A: We joined this Government at a difficult time without seeing any future. However, we took the correct decision to join the Government and extend our support as we want to get the country out of the current crisis situation. When we took that decision, a large number of MPs who were also willing to join hands with us couldn’t make that decision.

There are large numbers of MPs who genuinely love the motherland and want to extend their support to rescue the country from the current crisis. Actually, that is not an issue regarding power. They also want to be a part of the sincere efforts made by the Government to rebuild the economy. That group will join hands with the Government in the near future. They will join the Government irrespective of party politics to rebuild the country without concerning about personal benefits whatsoever.

Q: The Opposition is charging that the Government is scared of facing the LG polls and that is why it is trying to postpone the election. What is your comment on that?

A: The Government is scared not because of winning or defeating the election. We are afraid that the country’s economy will collapse once again and the people will die on the streets without having drugs. Actually, we are scared of the economy going backwards and the people will face acute shortages of food, fuel, gas and long hours of power cuts. This is the time to strengthen the country and not to strengthen political parties.