Monday, March 12, 2007

New Sri Lankan law to affect migrant workers :: Khaleej Times

Khaleej Times opens its story with this paragraph (my emphasis):
Sri Lanka’s new legislation restricting mothers with children below five years from taking up low-end jobs overseas, will adversely affect migrant workers in the UAE where a large number of Sri Lankan women are employed as housemaids and in garment factories.
Then it further reports:
Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UAE Nabawi Junaid said the legislation approved by the cabinet early this month and to be enforced soon will restrict the number of women, particularly mothers of young children, from seeking overseas employment.
Further, he noted that “The new legislation is undoubtedly in the interest of mothers with little children and will eliminate the social problems facing the Sri Lankan society with large numbers of women taking low-end jobs as domestic maids and tailors in garment factories in the Middle East compelled to leave their children in the custody of husbands, parents or relatives.”

Statistics released by the Sri Lankan government show that children of many mothers who take up overseas jobs to support their families have in fact become helpless and vulnerable to abuses, and suffer from malnutrition and lack of proper healthcare.
How could the introduction of the legislation adversely affect workers who are already in the UAE (as claimed in the first paragraph of the KT)? It can't. It can only benefit them by constricting the supply of labor inflow and thereby driving up wages or improving working conditions (at the end of your contract in the UAE can negotiate better terms for staying).

Will the law benefit the women and families whom the government of Sri Lanka will now compel to stay home? What is driving the women to leave their children is the lack of economic opportunity in Sri Lanka. The opportunities in the Middle East are not compelling them to leave. What the government is suggesting is that the families are consistently underestimating the cost of leaving in terms of the consequences for children. That's an empirical question that has not been answered. Indeed, the government may have the cause and effect reversed -- in which case the children will be made worse off.

There are other possible unintended consequences of the legislation which would be adverse. First, fertility may increase, not decrease. Second, there will develop a black market -- women will still want to take up positions overseas but they have to do so out of sight of the government, including the protections provided by the Sri Lankan consulates. As a result, they will be more vulnerable to unscrupulous recruiters and employers.

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