Migrant Workers


Globalization and liberalization have affected Sri Lanka both positively and negatively. On the positive side it has developed the economy and the scopes and horizons of the people. Thereby significant improvements of the income, education and knowledge, especially in information technology have been recorded. However, it has also increased the inequalities among rich and poor, urban and rural including plantations etc. Consequently, the underprivileged and less educated poor   tend to migrate to urban areas and especially to Gulf Region as unskilled domestic workers. All over the world, there are over 100 million workers employed to do work in someone else's houses. These domestic workers clean, cook, do laundry, provides care to children and the elderly and lots more. Their work is undervalued, underpaid, invisible, not recognized and respected. The majority of domestic workers are women (82%) – many are migrants and children.

Domestic workers are excluded from labour and social security legislation and undergo untold hardships.  Their work is not recognized as in the case of other workers in the country.  Organizing of Domestic workers is almost non-existent and they are vulnerable to exploitation and unethical labor practices, low wages, with no job security; which lead to physical and mental harassments, ruining them and their family’s future.

ILO,s Historic C189

The 100th Session of the International labour conference of the ILO adopted the historic Convention No. 189 and recommendation No. 203 on the rights and benefit of the Domestic workers in June, 2011. This is a great achievement for the long struggle of the Trade Unions and the civil society organizations.

It is estimated that more than 1.900,000 Sri Lankans are employed abroad. About 80% of them are women serving in foreign households as domestic workers. There is no adequate legal coverage of their terms and conditions of service. As per the Central Bank Statistic 2011 Tourism -1.4% of GDP, Total exports as a percentage of GDP is 17.7% Migrant workers remittance -8.8%of GDP Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Act No. 21 of 1985 . Compulsory Education Act - schooling of the children of migrant parents

UN Convention 90 are only applicable in Sri Lanka.  ILO Convention No. 97 , 143 and 181, 189 have not been ratified  Though the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment and Labour Welfare officers attached to Sri Lankan Missions abroad try to protect and safeguard our migrants the end result has been  unsatisfactory.

Migrant workers are frequently, abused, exploited, harassed and sometimes murdered. Many such degraded and inhuman cases have been reported by the media.

In spite of harassments Sri Lankan migrant workers contribute about US $ 5 billion, annually to our national income. This earning is higher  than that of the garment industry or any other economical sectors’.


Realizing the above cited adverse situation of our migrant workers The National Trade Union Federation –NTUF with the concern of its Working Committee initiated activities to conduct awareness programme to migrant workers, returnee migrants, their family members of their rights and responsibilities and the necessity to form right base organization to securer their rights. NTUF also had dialogs with the Employment Agents, Sub Agents and other relevant stakeholders’

With the support of ITUC, and ACTRAV - ILO the NTUF has also signed MoUs with trade unions in Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan to enlist their support in assisting Sri Lankan Domestic workers in those countries.

In the Mean time in July, 20011, NTUF facilitated to form an association namely  the Migrant Workers Front, to provide assistance to migrant workers. Since then the MWF has carried out a series of pre–departure awareness programmes empowering our workers going abroad. Also, our returnee migrants, too, have been provided by us with a training in cash management and investment.

Realizing the plight of these deserving workers the Migrant Workers Front took-up e  the challenge to mobilize and organize the domestic and Migrant Workers in to trade union and to set up a right based platform and common ground for them to raise their voice to mitigate their labor issues and to improve their living standards and those of their families as well.

In 2012 this association had become the first Trade Union in Sri Lanka for Migrant Workers  The inauguration ceremony of the Migrant Workers Front as a Trade Union will take place at the “Workers House” Rajagiriya on 31st, May, 2012 and adopt its constitution and  elect their new Executive Council.

The MWF is a newly formed trade union and it is  affiliated to the National Trade Union Federation. Its main task is to mobilize and organize the migrant, returnee  migrant and the domestic workers including Prospective Migrants in to a right base organization,  to facilitate them to raise their collective voice against any worker’s and human rights violation issues.  MWF has opened four help Desks in Colombo, Kurunagala, Nuwera Eliya and Badulla to provide needed services to the target group.

Committee of Executive Council Members for MWF < Read PDF >


The MWF is facing many challengers in meeting its goal in organizing the domestic workers following are few;

Non availability of applicable data on the domestic workers both local and foreign employed.

Non availability of appropriate and comprehensive laws and regulations to cover the rights of migrant domestic workers. Thus, no job security  and social security

Lack of commitment from the duty bearers to implement the existing regulations.

Lack of institutional arrangements to regulate and intervene on the issues.

Difficult to reach out to migrant domestic workers, as they are in isolation.

Difficulties and problems to register the organization under the trade union act and lack of orientation and focus of the trade union to organize domestic workers.

Created negative attitudes towards TU


1) Build strong domestic workers’ trade union and leadership;

2) Network domestic workers organization

3) Increase and promote Decent work practices of Domestic workers.

4) And lobby the authorities to ratify C189 and bring new labour legislation.


Through our help desk we offer free pre departure awareness training on rights, obligation and cultural behavior of the destination countries  to the migrant workers. We work closely with the family members of migrant workers. We have also realized that returnee migrants to be reintegrated with the community and properly guided to invest their earnings in sustainable income generating activities. We from the inception maintain a very close understanding and relationship with other Trade Unions, NGO’s and INGO’s.

We campaign for the ratification of the ILO C189 on Domestic Workers. We have translated the ILO C 189 in to Tamil and Sinhala Language and distributed among migrant workers, their families, NGO,s and trade unions. MWF is also engaged in a signature campaign to mobilize the mass support for the ratification of the ILO C189.

We advocate and lobby the Government to amend the national legislation to include domestic work as work. We also have dialogs with the Government and the election commissioner to provide the Absentee Voting Rights to the migrant workers. Help Desk of MWF entertain grievances from migrant workers and through their families and intervene in settlement proses.

We also distributed leaflets to  create awareness on the right of migrant workers; Conduct training programmes for trade union activists, Labour agencies , sub-agencies, returnee migrants and family members of migrant workers; Network and build alliances with relevant stakeholders; Collect relevant information on domestic workers and make them accessible to the relevant stakeholders (i.e. organize data bank and website); Organize public meetings (with the participation of all stakeholders including Parliamentarians); Organize demonstration, public hearing and signature campaign; Advocacy and Lobbing Dialog with the officials and the ministers of Labour and Foreign Employment. Organize returnee migrants guide them for proper sustainable investments.

“Join the campaign for rights and protection for domestic workers

And to end the Modern-day slavery”