Labor Minister unveils ambitious plan to digitalize foreign service center to combat trafficking

(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) –  Labor and Foreign Employment Minister, Manusha Nanayakkara, announced plans to digitalize the entire foreign service center in order to liberate the foreign employment center from the clutches of traffickers.

Furthermore, the Minister emphasized that this initiative would empower the Foreign Employment Bureau to thwart unnecessary interference and combat illegal activities effectively.

He further revealed that, under the guidance of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Ministry of Finance has constituted a committee to oversee the implementation of this program.

Minister Manusha Nanayakkara conveyed these sentiments during a press conference held yesterday (20) at the Presidential Media Centre, focusing on the theme of ‘Collective path to a stable country’.

Minister Manusha Nanayakkara further said;

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed the presidency during a challenging period when our country was in turmoil. We witnessed the tragic killings of MPs on the streets, and a group of terrorists attempted to seize power. However, President Ranil Wickremesinghe took it upon himself to uplift our nation from its fallen state. The government’s foremost priority was to establish a safe and secure environment where our people could thrive. Putting aside personal political agendas, the President rallied everyone together, regardless of their political affiliations, for the greater good of our country and worked towards forming a united government.

Rebuilding the country was a daunting task, especially considering the dire state of our economy. We faced a severe shortage of foreign currency reserves, but we took on the responsibility of bringing in much-needed dollars. Through the efforts of our overseas workforce, comprising 312,000 dedicated individuals, we were able to contribute $4.8 billion to our nation’s economy. Their contribution played a significant role in improving our financial situation.

We have made substantial progress in reducing inflation, which stood at a staggering 80 percent when the President assumed office. Today, we have managed to bring it down to 25 per cent. I express my gratitude to the foreign workers who have played a crucial role in creating a livable environment for our people.

To foster the development of our nation, it is imperative to focus on increasing production and nurturing a robust manufacturing economy. However, we face various obstacles when it comes to investments, particularly due to rigid labor laws. Therefore, we must create a favorable environment for foreign investors by reforming labor laws to ensure worker protection. We also need to enhance the productivity of our labor force, providing investors with opportunities to collaborate and enhance productivity together.

Furthermore, our country requires a comprehensive social security system. We have already begun drafting a bill for the social security program, which will be presented to the Cabinet after obtaining initial approval from the Labour Consultative Council appointed by the President.

Similarly, we are actively pursuing the digitization of the labor department. Currently, the tender process is underway for the digitization of the Employee Trust Fund (ETF), Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), and the e-salary service. Furthermore, we are taking measures to introduce a licensing system that covers all professions, from laborers to doctors. It is crucial for anyone working in the country to be registered under this system, enabling us to have comprehensive information about their employment. Additionally, a program is being implemented to extend social security benefits, including ETF and EPF, to daily wage workers.

In the past, foreign workers have been provided with unique opportunities, and we continue to prioritize their welfare. We are initiating a nationwide program to establish a comprehensive health and safety system in workplaces, which will be enforced through legislation. Efforts are also being made to eliminate child labor, while steps are being taken to streamline the Employee Provident Fund, collecting and digitizing relevant data to ensure efficient implementation.

To optimize government revenue, we have allocated vacant floors of the Mehewara Piyasa building to investors. Moreover, allowing foreign workers to import electric vehicles has resulted in saving $70 million for the country. This opportunity to import electric vehicles is available to anyone worldwide until September. We have already launched various welfare initiatives for foreign workers and are implementing nationwide programs to provide vocational training for young people, creating job opportunities abroad. The first phase of this program will commence with the global fair in Jaffna next month.

As only 40% of the workforce in Sri Lanka is engaged in direct employment, while the remaining 60% are in indirect employment, we are committed to providing comprehensive benefits through a centralized fund. This includes maternity benefits, compensation in case of job loss, and accident insurance. We secure these benefits through the funds acquired from ETF and contributions from employers. These measures are implemented without any bias towards political affiliations, as our goal is to safeguard the well-being of the people of our country. Regardless of party colors, we work diligently for the betterment of the nation, ensuring that political leaders make decisions based on the welfare of the people rather than their own political future.

Regarding the Broadcasting Authority Bill, it is important to clarify certain misconceptions. This act does not aim to suppress the media, as the government has no intention of controlling it. The Broadcasting Authority Act has several key objectives, with the primary one being the protection of freedom of speech as enshrined in the Constitution. Freedom of speech is an essential right that cannot be compromised. However, it is crucial for accurate information to be disseminated, and self-censorship and responsible reporting are vital in achieving this goal. The rules and regulations of the Broadcasting Authority Act are developed in collaboration with the Association of Broadcasters, without any government interference. Journalists and media organizations are not restricted, and licenses are issued in a fair and unbiased manner. Nevertheless, it is necessary to have an independent committee to investigate and address any misinformation or damage caused by certain media outlets in the past, ensuring that such incidents are not repeated.

I understand your concern regarding slanderous allegations that may arise while providing services to foreign workers, both within our country and abroad. I want to clarify that I have never engaged in any dealings with smugglers, and there is no truth to the news circulating on social media platforms. If there were any credibility to these claims, they would have been covered by reputable media outlets and addressed in Parliament. However, no such complaints or accusations have been lodged against me.

The implementation of the Broadcasting Authority Act is indeed crucial to prevent the dissemination of baseless news and unfounded rumors in the media. It aims to ensure responsible journalism and protect individuals from having their honor compromised. By enacting this legislation, we can maintain the integrity of news reporting and prevent the spread of false information.

Additionally, we have taken decisive action against numerous foreign employment agencies involved in illegal activities, resulting in their prohibition. Rest assured that if I were involved in any illicit dealings with such agencies, appropriate measures would have been taken. It is our duty to conduct the media in a manner that upholds the dignity and respect of every individual, and I am committed to adhering to these principles.

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