Foreign workers, both with and without work visas, are arriving in Sri Lanka with the country facing an acute labour shortage, a cabinet minister said yesterday.
Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka told the Sunday Times that an estimated 200,000 strong foreign labour force was in Sri Lanka.
He said the Government should have strict immigration regulations to check the influx of foreign workers.
The minister said a majority of the foreign workers were Indians, Bangladeshis and Maldivians. “We are facing a labour shortage even for simple tasks such cleaning up a well or harvesting, thereby creating a market for foreign labour. But we need to strictly regulate their arrival and departure,” he said.
Meanwhile, more work permit applications for foreign workers in labour sites are flowing in to the Board of Investment (BOI).
Last year, the BOI received requests for over 8,000 work visas, but some come here for work with tourist visas. Last year, the BOI approved 5,786 visa requests.
A Sunday Times team visited a construction site where about 250 Tamil Nadu workers are employed. The team found the workers were putting up with tough working conditions, including 12 hour shifts daily.
“We work from 7.30am to 7.30 pm and are provided transport back to our lodgings,” an Indian worker said.
An Indian labourer is paid Rs. 60,000 (25,253 Indian rupees) for a month and they need find their own meals, though accommodation is provided.
The workers at the site said they worked all seven days including Sunday and were not granted leave.
“Even after we work all day, we prepare meals for ourselves. We cook for ourselves. Otherwise, the money we earn will be spent on food which is expensive in Sri Lanka,” one worker said.
The workers said the construction company here paid them more than what they earned in India, but to earn that they have to put up a life which has little or no leisure or entertainment.
Meanwhile, Chinese construction workers who work in projects at Galle Face and R. A. de Mel Mawatha said they too experience hardships at work with the current heat wave being one of the problems.
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