Pre-Departure Training for Migrant Workers Travelling to the Middle East

AGENCY          :     UNISON International Development Fund, Anti Slavery International
START DATE   :     15-07-2015
END DATE       :     14-07-2016
Ruchi Gupta

The Context

India ranks as the second country in the world that sends largest migrant workforce. According to the World Bank it sent 11.4 million migrants in 2010 alone globally. Major labour market openings for the past couple of decades and India’s efforts to work towards compliance with international instruments such as WTO which call for creating an environment friendly for investors and capital rather than safeguarding interests of labour, along with other structural and individual ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors such as better living standards, conflict, disaster and more have propelled this phenomenon. According to the Government of India, almost 90 per cent of the migration from India is to the Middle East. International migration has impacted upon the economic growth and development of the receiving countries as well as India. India tops the world in the list of remittance receiving country – 70 billion USD in 2013. The bulk of the remittances are made by the unskilled and semi-skilled migrants in the Middle East and East Asia. Ahead of the 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar its construction industry is booming, international media reports on the arduous conditions of work, torture and even death of Indian and Nepalese workers at the construction sites in Qatar. Statistics reveal that almost 500,000 Indians work in Qatar (2012) which is over one quarter of the total population of Qatar. International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated one million extra migrant workers in the next decade.
The search for better wages and living conditions – lands the Indian migrant workers in an ordeal where instead they end up with menial jobs and often have to undergo torture at the hands of the employer and can land up in jail for not knowing the law of the land. Such strictly temporary work, pays less than what was assured, no social security as well as employment security benefits, restricted health care facilities, restricted opportunities for family reunion combined with harsh working conditions and severe restrictions on movement affects them adversely. Their lack of information on rights and entitlements, cheap and safe remittance options, absence of social security creates a situation in which their families continue in poverty. Absence of any form of collectivisation adds to their vulnerabilities. 
In Qatar the Kafala system is still being used to control construction labour. The system requires all unskilled labourers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. This practice has been criticised for enabling exploitation of workers, as many employers take away passports and abuse their workers, creating situations of forced labour and bondage. Bahrain repealed the Kafala system in 2008. Qatar promised to repeal it by early 2015 following reports of exploitative working conditions and to enable workers to change jobs. However, concrete evidence or reports are still awaited. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has warned that up to 4,000 workers may die before a ball is kicked in 2022 without meaningful reform of the Kafala system.
India and Qatar signed a Labour agreement in 1985 with a view to regulate the flow of Indian workforce and to protect the basic interests of labourers from India and their Qatari employers. India was the first non-Arab country to enter into a labour contract with Qatar. According to the labour agreement the sponsors in Qatar are required to execute an employment contract as prescribed indicating, inter-alia, salient features like wages and other benefits. The Indian Emigration Act of 1983 intends to safeguard the interests and welfare of Indian workers who seek overseas employment on temporary or contract basis. It has created the institution of Protector General of Emigrants and Protector of Emigrants and registration of workers under ECR system and registration of Recruitment Agents. Pravasi Bhartiya Bima Yojna (PBBY) is a specific scheme for overseas migrants that gives live insurance, health cover, maternity and other benefits. Other social protections available include Right to Education for children, Old Age Pension and PDS. Despite such protective mechanisms being in place, vast majority of workers are excluded from their benefits. As a recent report of Amnesty International on the working conditions in the construction industry in Qatar indicates workers working for excessive hours, pay being withheld for months, their passports being confiscated and living in squalid accommodation and employers failing to protect their health and safety.
Within India the MOIA annual reports indicate that in the recent years UP has emerged as a top labour sending state. International migration from Uttar Pradesh is also growing constantly from a figure of 139,254 migrants in 2008 to 191,341 in 2012. Tamil Nadu is next in line but far below in terms of numbers - 78,185 migrants. Delhi acts as a transit point for workers of Indian as well as Nepalese origin to migrate out. 
Against this backdrop this project proposes pre departure trainings to migrant workers moving from Uttar Pradesh and Delhi into Qatar.