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Prominent poll manifestos show no concrete plan to ensure safety of Indian workers abroad

Pic Courtesy: UN News

The cries of stranded Indian workers in the middle east has fallen on deaf years going by the election manifestos of various parties for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls

For the last six months, some 300 Indian workers in Oman are stranded as the company they worked for, has failed to pay them their wages.

Eventually, the workers have landed in a situation that even daily food has become a challenge as the canteens in the company camps have stopped running.

“For the last one month, we banked on kind-hearted people for food. There are some social groups who come here weekly with rice and grocery items. We survive on that. And unfortunately, some are unwell too. We are afraid of this situation. We are stuck here,” a worker from Tamil Nadu, who had worked for about four years as a blue-collar worker, told The Lede over the phone.

And according to social workers who are in touch with the workers, a solution is nowhere at sight.

“Workers need to get their unpaid dues. That is their right. But at the same, the reality is that how long can we support them,” a social worker asked adding that surprisingly, the Indian Embassy in Oman has failed to find a solution and rescue the workers.

“We heard that the company is facing some financial trouble,” the social worker said, adding that such financial issues are a new normal in the Arab Gulf.

This not an isolated situation, hundreds of Indian migrant workers are facing a tough time in the Arab Gulf countries.

Since 2014 mid, when the oil price started to slip, the Arab Gulf countries are in trouble.

The Gulf monarchies had to tighten government expenditures, increase the rate of employing locals due to financial risk and impose certain fee for different services meant for migrant workers, which were free earlier.

Many are losing their job and returning empty-handed giving up their unpaid salaries and end of service benefits.

And just when it is time to meet this desperate situation with some quick and concerted political and bureaucratic action from home, the three major political parties in India have come out with poll promises that hardly have true promises for the protection of migrant workers.

On one hand the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) have a few lines of promises in their manifestos, which are not going to ease the migrant workers challenges they face in terms of ensuring safe, orderly and regular migration. And on the other, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which enjoys a good support from the Keralites working in the Arab Gulf, has failed to even have a single line to ensure the protection of Indian migrant workers.

In the manifesto released by the BJP, it says that it will create an institutional mechanism to deepen the relationship of culture and heritage with people of Indian origin, and to regularly engage with them.

“We will simultaneously launch ‘Bharat Gaurav’ campaign to increase interaction among the Indian diaspora and enable their continuous engagement with the Indian missions. We will strengthen the MADAD portal as a single-point avenue for information and services for Indians living abroad,” the manifesto says.

It seems that the BJP manifesto has failed to capture the sincere work of their own Minister of External Affairs Sushama Swaraj’s in reaching out to migrant workers in distress during the last five years.

Interestingly, it was the BJP government, which brought in an eMigrate system to streamline recruitment practices and MADAD, an online grievance registering system, allowing migrant workers themselves to register their complaints.

Meanwhile, the INC manifesto says that Congress promises to re-establish the Ministry of Overseas Indians that will be tasked to address the concerns of NRIs including their safety, conditions of work, social security and health benefits, education of their children, need for financial services and safe return to India.

The Ministry of Overseas Indians which mainly dealt with Indian migrant workers abroad was merged with the Ministry of External Affairs by the current BJP government when they came to power in 2014 in the centre.

Congress says that the party will task India’s Missions abroad to pay special attention to work safety and work conditions of Indian citizens in foreign countries and it will appoint a Committee of Overseas Indian Citizens to review the work of the Missions in this regard.

The INC also states that it will review and expand the opportunities for higher education and review the fee structure for the children of NRIs in colleges and universities in India and promises to design and promote an NRI Invest Scheme to offer more opportunities and options to NRIs to invest in India.

“We will establish a single point of contact and simplify the procedures to enable NRIs to invest in businesses in India,” the Congress manifesto reads.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) manifesto does not make any mention on protection and welfare of Indian migrant workers abroad despite the CPI (M) which is in power in Kerala, banking mainly on Keralite migrant workers’ money for the state’s development.

In India, Kerala is the top destination for remittances. According to the Centre for Development Studies latest Kerala Migration Survey 2018, remittances as a per cent of Net State Domestic Product was 19.3. It was 32 per cent in 2014.

Additionally, the study reveals that the number of returning migrants is increasing every year and that the ‘long history of migration from Kerala to the Gulf is in its last phase’.

As per the study, a decrease of 3 lakh migrants has been seen during 2013 and 2018 which accounts one-tenth of the total migrants in 2013.

“In 2018, we reached a stage where migrants’ figures showed a negative growth of 11.6%,” said S. Irudaya Rajan, who led the Survey said citing job loss in the Arab Gulf.

Bino PP, from Kerala who works in Oman for the last three decades, said that it is disheartening to see that CPM has missed out on promising help for Indian migrants workers abroad.

“A huge chunk of Indian migrants, especially Keralites, in the Arab Gulf support CPM. And CPM has a structured mechanism to help the workers in distress in the Arab Gulf. They even formed a platform called Lok Kerala Sabha, a platform for non-resident Keralites to come together and work for their welfare. Having said that, when such initiatives are taken, I can’t understand why they missed having some promises for these workers when they were anticipating some pro-migrant promises in the manifestos,” Bino said.

A migrant rights activist in Tamil Nadu said that the manifestos have failed to see the real issues faced by Indian migrant workers abroad.

“People are moving to South East Asian destinations and the Arab Gulf countries looking for a job. But they still get duped in different phases of migration. They are fleeced by the recruiters, exploited by the employers and when they return, our government ignores them,” Sr Josephine Valarmathi said.

“Additionally, when laid off people are returning home, there is not even a single reintegration programme happening in the country,” Valarmathi said, adding that migrants and their families are ignored all time.

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