The crisis has been accentuated by the fact that most Gulf nations, especially Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are officially pushing to restrict and reduce the high share of migrants in their populations. (File image of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai: Reuters)
The government will bilaterally take up the issue of lakhs of Indian migrant workers in the Gulf nations being wrongfully fired from jobs during COVID-19 and sent back without proper compensation, senior sources told Moneycontrol.
With the advent of COVID-19, slumping oil prices and an overall economic decline, lakhs of Indians employed in Gulf nations have lost their jobs.
The crisis has been accentuated by the fact that most Gulf nations, especially Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are officially pushing to restrict and reduce the high share of migrants in their populations.
The Centre's data shows that more than 7.16 lakh Indian migrants came back from the six Gulf nations (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE), under the Vande Bharat Missions.
“On asking about the reason for wanting to be repatriated to India urgently, our embassies have found that a large chunk of them have been recently terminated from work. Many of them have been denied their rightful salaries," a senior government official said.
Unlike earlier, when such complaints were mostly raised by blue-collar migrant workers in the construction and labour-intensive industries, this time, many white-collar workers have also raised these issues, he added.
“We are monitoring the situation. State governments will be asked to gather more information on the subject and send to the Ministry of External Affairs,” another official said. Subsequently, the issue may also be raised at the Joint Working Group meetings periodically held with the Gulf nations to ensure the redressal of grievances and protection of rights of Indian workers, he confirmed to Moneycontrol.
An independent study by the Centre for Indian Migrant Studies (CIMS), a Kerala-based NGO, corroborates this. A recent report by The Hindu said that a CIMS survey has found that more than 11 percent of returning migrants have complained of ‘wage theft’, or being forced to return without being paid.
Kerala has historically been the largest source of Indian migrants to the Gulf. According to the state government's Department of Non-Resident Keralite's Affairs (NORKA), 15.36 lakh migrant workers have returned to the state until July 15 since the pandemic broke out. Of this, 10.98 lakh have indicated job loss as the reason for return, according to NORKA.
However, the phenomenon of return migration has increased for Indian migrants from the Gulf, even before the pandemic struck. In Kerala, the number of returning emigrants, estimated by the Kerala Migration Survey 2018, is 12.95 lakh -- about 60 per cent of the number of emigrants.
In recent years, the government has been fixing minimum referral wages to regulate the wages of Indian migrant workers -- employed in different occupations -- in countries falling under the category of “emigration check required”. Recently, the government said the Minimum Referral Wages (MRWs) for employment in six Gulf countries is the same now as it was in 2019-20.
"For a brief period of 10 months, the MRWs were adjusted downwards, due to the Covid situation, to protect our employment in the Gulf. As the labour market stabilised, the situation was reviewed in consultation with our embassies in the Gulf," the Ministry of External Affairs told Parliament earlier this week. It was decided that the earlier MRWs to be made applicable once more, with effect from July 15, 2021, it said.
The government has also signed the Labour Employment and Cooperation agreements with major destination countries of Indian workers, including Gulf countries.
The Emigration Bill, 2021, currently at the consultation stage with all stakeholders, aims to establish a comprehensive emigration framework with adequate opportunities for migration and mobility and safeguards against exploitation of Indian workers abroad.