Wednesday, June 16, 2021
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Can government rehabilitate Indian migrants from Saudi Arabia?

Nowadays, the Indian workers are living in inhuman conditions in labour camps after losing jobs in slump-hit Saudi economy. Indian government has planned to evacuate a large number of Indian workers facing uncertain future in Saudi Arabia following extensive layoffs. The government will send a minister to Saudi Arabia and try to bring back more than 10,000 Indian workers who are facing a “food crisis” because they are unable to afford meals after being laid off from their jobs. Low oil prices have forced the Saudi government to slash spending since last year, putting heavy pressure on the finances of local construction firms, which rely on state contracts. As a result, some companies have been struggling to pay foreign workers and have laid off tens of thousands, leaving many with no money for food or tickets for returning home. The decision to evacuate Indian workers comes a day after the Embassy of India in Riyadh and Consulate in Jeddah began arranging food through community support for workers.

The hardships faced by Indian migrants come amid rising protests about working conditions in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of foreign workers at construction firm Saudi Oger staged a public protest in Jeddah at the weekend to demand seven months of unpaid wages. The Saudi government says it investigates any complaints of companies not paying wages and if necessary, obliges them to do so with fines and other penalties.

Even otherwise the life of workers in Saudi is not as easy as we think. The lack of effective regulation of visa brokers and rogue recruiting agents makes Indian migrant workers vulnerable to serious human rights abuses. Dispatches from Indian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, highlights cases of migrant workers from Kerala who were deceived about their jobs, wages and working conditions. Many workers went on to face a range of abuses in Saudi Arabia, which at their worst included forced labour.

Migrant workers send billions of dollars in remittances every year to India and sustain thousands of families. Yet Indian authorities continue to let them down when they are abused. It is time that migrant workers’ rights get the protection they deserve. Migrant workers reported working regularly for between 15 to 18 hours without a day off, and not being compensated for overtime. Some were subjected to threats and beatings by their employers, had their passports and residency permits confiscated and were denied exit permits to return home.

Few sought remedy after they returned home, or were aware of their rights under law or existing mechanisms for redressal. Virtually, nobody had attended any training programmes before they left India. The Indian Emigration Act governs the recruitment of Indian migrant workers, including by mandating government certification for recruiting agents, and setting up Protector of Emigrants offices to regulate them. Further, visa brokers, who are used by most potential migrants, are both unregistered and unregulated, and function outside the law. Migrants’ reliance on brokers to facilitate the recruitment process often left them vulnerable to deception, exploitation and indebtedness.

Authorities like the Protector of Emigrants lacked the resources to effectively regulate recruitment of migrant workers, and rogue recruiters were rarely punished. Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are estimated to number about 12 million. Initially, the main influx was composed of Arab and Western technical, professional and administrative personnel, but subsequently substantial numbers came from Southeast Asia. Saudi Arabia has become increasingly dependent on foreign labour, and although foreign workers remain present in technical positions, most are now employed in the agriculture, cleaning and domestic service industries. The hierarchy of foreign workers is often dependent on their country of origin; workers from Arab and Western countries generally hold the highest positions not held by Saudis, and persons from Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia occupy the lower positions. The Saudi government has faced criticism from legal bodies and employers over the treatment of foreign workers.

Many domestic servants in Saudi Arabia are treated adequately but there have been numerous cases of abuse. Foreign workers have been raped, exploited, under or unpaid, physically abused, overworked and locked in their places of employment. The international organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes these conditions as “near-slavery” and attributes them to “deeply rooted gender, religious, and racial discrimination. In many cases the workers are unwilling to report their employers for fear of losing their jobs or further abuse. Other forms of general discrimination, such as a lack of freedom of religion for non-Sunni Muslims, are also applicable.

These conditions have sparked condemnation both inside and outside of Saudi Arabia. In 2002, Grand Mufti Abdul-Azeez ibn Abdullaah Aal ash-Shaikh argued that Islam required employers to honour their contracts and not intimidate, blackmail or threaten their workers.. Several executions have sparked international outcries. Same is the condition of many other skilled workers and labour also.

Anyways, now they will be brought back to India but the big question is who will speak for their pending salaries? Air lifting jobless workers from Saudi Arabia is not a big deal but what about salaries which the companies have not paid to them for several months? What amenities will the government provide after bringing back those workers? Is there any employment in India to offer them?

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Dr. Vaidehi Taman
Dr. Vaidehi is an Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and an Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. Since 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond the news (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which she caters for her sister-concern Kaizen-India Infosec Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

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