ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Neglect of the Working Emigrant

Indian overseas workers deserve more attention from the government.

The safe return of 104 Indian nurses from strife-torn Iraq justifiably received a lot of public attention. However, the fate of 39 other Indian workers allegedly kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remains uncertain. The periodic crises faced by Indian overseas workers in recent years always lead to hopes that a permanent mechanism and policy to address the needs and issues of such workers will be put in place, which, however, has never happened. India receives the largest amount of remittances in the world, an estimated $70 billion in 2013, a large part of which is not from professionals but from semi-skilled and unskilled migrants. Yet, the attention given to the issues experienced by Indian workers abroad is woefully inadequate.

Among the millions of Indian migrants abroad, it is the unskilled and semi-skilled workers in west Asia who work and live in the most difficult of situations. The Indian missions in west Asia receive complaints every day about poor working conditions, non-payment of wages and even of ill-treatment. At times the consequences of migration are unimaginable. In 2012 The Guardian reported that 500 Indian workers employed at construction sites preparing Qatar to host the 2022 Football World Cup had died, deaths that were later confirmed by the Government of India. Workers in west Asia, especially the construction and domestic personnel, have some common complaints: the promised wages not paid, passports are confiscated by employers to prevent mobility or departure from the country, work hours are very long, the living conditions are abysmal and there is often a hostile working atmosphere. There is never any question of these workers being covered by the labour laws of the host nation or having the right to form unions. This state of affairs is worsened by visa “brokers” and unscrupulous recruitment agents thanks to whom many of these workers find that they are “illegal” entities in these foreign countries. In the periodic crackdown on such illegal workers, thousands are forced to come back to India, turned overnight from economic providers to burdens on their families. The government has often taken steps to deal with some of these problems. However, given the complexity and the magnitude of the task, much better planning and a more thought-out response are called for.

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