As India tries to evacuate workers still caught up in the ongoing Iraq crisis, states have urged the Centre to take cognisance of the vulnerability of millions of Indians working abroad by creating a central registry to monitor their work conditions and protect them from exploitation by employers.
The issue was raised at a national conference chaired by Union labour minister Narendra Singh Tomar where a number of state labour ministers, including those from Bihar and Orissa stressed that the government must have a central registry of workers moving abroad for jobs to protect their rights and prevent them from exploitation and harassment by employers.
Kerala, which till recently sent the largest number of workers abroad, already has a registry to monitor these migrants, such a facility has not been set up at the all-India level. Bihar has also recently started the Samundar Paar Niyojan Bureau that is a registration and facilitation point for workers from the state moving abroad for work.
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“The Bureau works to register workers and help them with passport and visa processing,” said DC Goswami, labour minister, Bihar at the conference who pointed out to issues such as contractual disputes faced by Indian workers abroad.
Pointing out to the large number of instances where employers seize passports of Indian workers and prevent their return, Prafulla Kumar Mallik, labour minister, Orissa told The Indian Express, “Most of the labour goes as casual workers and no one has any information on where they have gone or their job conditions. The Centre must bring in a legislation to protect their rights.”
While the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs registers private recruitment agencies that place workers abroad and also has bilateral pacts with some countries for protection of workers, there is no specialised central registry of such workers or monitoring of their conditions of work. Harassment of workers is common with employers often taking away their passports and not even paying them minimum wages.
Officials from the ministry of overseas Indian affairs agree that though some measure are in place to protect Indian migrants abroad but there is no actual figure of how many Indians are working abroad.
“The ministry largely license and monitor the recruiting agencies but since most of the workers are employed by private agencies, it is difficult to keep a complete tab,” said an official.
According to official estimates, over 7.5 million workers moved abroad in 2012 of the total 25 million Indians working in more than 200 countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar and even war torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.
A majority of the workers belong to Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are engaged primarily in blue-collar jobs such as construction, machinery operators, drivers and domestic workers.
Although a national registry is not in place, states have started their own efforts at monitoring migrants working abroad.
Kerala has a registry on the lines of what is proposed at the all-India level, Bihar has started a Bureau that acts as a registration and facilitation point for workers.
Cases of harassment by employers have been on the rise, with little legal recourse available.