Non-payment of salaries, denial of legitimate labour rights and benefits are key issues
On average, 52 Indians working in the Arab Gulf are lodging labour complaints on a daily basis in the Indian embassies, data tabled in the lower house of parliament on Wednesday reveals.
This year, from January 01, till October 12, there were 15,051 complaints registered with the Indian embassies in all six Arab Gulf countries.
The six Arab Gulf countries are Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.
“Most of the complaints received from the Indian workers are regarding non-payment of salaries and denial of legitimate labour rights and benefits,” V Muraleedharan, the Minister of State for External Affairs, told parliament.
According to the minister, non-issuance and renewal of residence permits, non-payment and grant of overtime allowance, denying weekly holidays and forcing the worker into longer working hours are a few of the key issues.
“Refusal to grant exit/re–entry permits for visit to India, refusal to allow the worker to return to India on final exit visa after completion of their contracts and non-provision of medical and insurance facilities, not being paid compensation upon death etc are also reasons for complaints,” Muraleedharan added.
Exploitative Work Conditions
Responding to the complaint numbers placed in the parliament, migrant rights activists said that even though India is receiving around USD 79 billion as remittances from Indian migrants, India does not have a migration policy.
“We are still managing migration with a 1983 Emigration Bill. The entire migration scenario has changed in the last 35 years. But we are not updated ourselves and that’s why our people are struggling in the Arab Gulf,” Mandha Bheem Reddy, President of Emigration Welfare Forum, told The Lede.
“The Arab Gulf countries have exploitative working conditions. They follow a bonded-labour system named Kafala. And as we don’t have rights-based treaties with these Arab Gulf countries, our workers can be subjected to exploitation very easily,” Reddy said adding that India has also missed to sign many global tools that can cover our workers’ rights.
According to the tabled data, the Indian mission in Saudi Arabia has recorded 4286 cases, the highest among the six Arab Gulf countries.
Following Saudi, the Indian mission in Kuwait has recorded 3496 cases. While the Indian embassy in the UAE has recorded 2493 cases, the Indian embassy in Oman has received 2308 cases.
In Qatar, the Indian embassy received 1883 cases and in Bahrain, the number of cases are 535.
“The Indian government has different Memoranda of Understanding with all the six Arab Gulf countries and the Ministry of External Affairs has different wings to address workers’ grievances. However, these numbers reveal that they are not sufficient to protect our workers. We are failing,” Reddy added.
Deaths Of Migrant Workers
In addition to tabling the aggrieved workers’ numbers, the document also has revealed the number of Indian workers who had died in the Arab Gulf countries during the last few years.
In Saudi, this year, till October, 1920 Indians have died. In the UAE, the number is 1451 and in Kuwait it is 584. Meanwhile in Oman, the number is 402 and in Bahrain it is 180.
Even though, the document has revealed the number of deaths of Indians, the reasons behind the deaths are not stated in the document.
Meanwhile, Rafeek Ravuther, director of Centre for Indian Migrant Studies, said that neither does India have strong bilateral or multi-lateral treaties with countries of destination, mainly Arab countries, nor is the country a signatory of global treaties which can protect migrant workers.
“Without signing rights-based treaties understanding the ground situation, we won’t be able to find a solution for this issue and help our workers,” Rafeek added.
“Even after India implemented the eMigrate system in 2015 to ensure safe migration, strengthening Indian missions’ outreach initiatives and opening new grievance redressal windows, thousands of Indian men and women are still deceived when they look for a job in the Arab Gulf and they are also subjected to exploitation at the country of destination,” Rafeek said.
He added that this is only because India has failed to sign many global treaties.
According to Rafeek, many semi-skilled and unskilled workers are enslaved either at Arab employers’ workplace or at homes even now and abused physically and mentally.
Meanwhile, Lateefh Techy, a social worker in Saudi Arabia who helps at least a dozen grieved workers’ cases every day, told The Lede over phone from Saudi Arabia that it is quite depressing and tiring as the number of cases are going up daily.
“Without reshaping our workers’ rights policies and listening and talking to these Arab governments frequently, we won’t be able to find a solution to these issues,” Techy added.
There are 30 million Indian migrant workers, with over nine million in the GCC region (Gulf Cooperation Council) alone.
Over 90% of Indian migrant workers who work in the Arab Gulf are semi-skilled and unskilled workers.