Page 2 of 2 SPEAKING FREELY India can no longer ignore Gulf labor pain
By Zakir Hussain
The research will not only assist India to formulate a better emigration policy, it will also help in training and preparing the kind of workforce that can compete internationally. It will also help in assessing and highlighting the contributions of Indian workers in host economies, which has been generally ignored. Additionally, migrant workers suffer from exploitation including discrimination in payment, perks, long working hours, xenophobia and the like. Since Indian economic migrants are present in more than 100 countries, establishing a network of MRCs around the world would allow New Delhi to target these labor markets and negotiate better terms and conditions.
d) Generally, the workers do not have discretion to negotiate
salaries and minimum safeguards for their working conditions. To secure the interest of its citizens aboard, India can work on developing a minimum wage or living wage formula and negotiate with the host countries accordingly, besides incremental upgrades to basic human amenities.
e) Since independence, India has introduced comprehensive reform in overseas emigration policies. In 2000, it established the MOIA as a separate ministry to deal with overseas affairs, and implemented several welfare schemes and protective measures as well as the annual observance of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on January 9 to highlight the contributions and concerns of Indians living abroad both to their countries of residence and to India's socio-economic conditions.
However, New Delhi needs to focus on two issues more seriously and urgently: First, to educate the potential migrants about relevant Saudi laws, including labor laws. This is essential as the majority of the unskilled and semi-skilled migrants are illiterate. Their ignorance of the Arabic language further complicates dealings with their immediate bosses as well as the handling their cases in courts of law there. During the current Nitaqat problem, this has been widely noticed. Some Indians were so frustrated that they even vented their anger on Indian embassy staff.
Since labor migration from India is geographically pocket-intensive, the MOIA can help assist each pocket to evolve its specific pre-departure programs. For instance, in the Philippines, churches are widely engaged in educating potential migrants. Most of the problems of labor emigrants are either related to recruitment or are visa-related. To handle these, India needs to establish close coordination with the immigration cells in the destination countries and evolve comprehensive recruitment policies. For instance, the MOIA should establish close contact with Saudi Arabia's Ministries of labor and Interior.
f) The MOIA can establish or assist in establishing regional MRCs in the migration-pockets and carry out a systematic study on migration. Already, some states like Kerala have been doing this successfully.
g) While India should harness the benefits of migration to countries across the globe, including Saudi Arabia, it needs to be remembered that migration cannot be an endless process. The government needs to intervene and break the cycle of migration by helping migrant workers to establish their own businesses back home. Usually, an Indian migrant in the Gulf spends his entire working life there and returns in near penury. The government needs to establish a pension fund for migrants to cover their years of retirement, perhaps on lines of the National Pension Scheme or the Provident Fund Act 1975.
h) For migrants, evacuation from the host countries can become a catastrophic experience. This has been repeatedly seen in the Gulf. During the Gulf crisis of 1990, Indians, particularly from Kerala, returned en masse; subsequently, the Indian government banned Indian citizens from emigrating to Iraq. The Israel-Lebanon crisis in 2006 once again forced Indians to return. During the Libyan crisis, more than 19,000 Indians had to be evacuated by the Indian Navy.
The current expulsion of more than 140,000 Indians under the Nitaqat program of Saudization shows the same situation of uncertainty and New Delhi's poor understanding of Saudi Arabia's labor market, economy and political thinking. While the GCC in general and Saudi Arabia in particular has been El Dorado for Indians, it appears that the Indian migration authorities are more interested in playing the diplomatic card than doing hard homework on the legal and institutional framework.
i) Considering the growing number of causalities of the Indian workers in Qatar, India needs to further scrutinize some of the provisions of the labor agreement with Qatar. In this regard, both countries need to develop a fresh perspective to deal the safety issues of the workers. As reported more than 478 Indians 20 per month have lost their lives under heat and bad working conditions. India supplies the largest number of laborers to Qatar, approximately 500,000 to Qatar, who are helping the country to meet the FIFA target of 2022.
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Dr Zakir Hussain is a Research Fellow at Indian Council of World Affairs, Sapru House, New Delhi. He was associated with National labor Institute in India, the International labor Organisation, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, National Maritime Foundation (New Delhi). Dr Hussain has been invited by the US government to participate in the prestigious International Visitors Leadership Program and has three books in press. The views expressed are his own.