The fast pace world and rapidly increasing globalisation have created more migrant workers than ever before. Population explosion, the low-valued tech industry and underdeveloped infrastructure force the workers to gravitate to wealthier and developed nations.
As of 2020, three of the high-income countries; the United States of America, UAE and Saudi Arabia were top sources of income for migrant workers. Low and middle-income countries such as India, Egypt, Philippines were among the top countries receiving remittances.
India ranks number one in terms of international migrants and remittances internationally. The workers move to a new country for better employment, and high exchange rates but the irony is the untold stories of exploitation and violations faced by labourers. The irony is that needs urgent attention worldwide.
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Understanding Migration and Migrants
Globally, there is no accepted statistical definition of labour migration. Migration is when people move from one country to another for better exposure and interaction with the outside world. It reaps the gaps in the demand and supply of labour worldwide. They are generally categorized by the sectors they work in and their skill set. The appeal of well-paying jobs increased chances of employment and better employment that motivates them to work in a different country.
Migration brings a destination country an incredible diversity, richness and economic benefit. While the countries benefit much from the workers the irony is that migrant workers who are behind these services and work suffer at the hands of stakeholders.
Talking of migrants, one cannot ignore the degree of challenges the workers face. The challenges remain the issue of basic pay, inappropriate working and living conditions, exclusion, labour rights violation, etc. The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of migrant workers.
The workers gravitate to another country for economic prosperity and well-being. But the present scenario of migrant workers is what needs worldwide attention and action. Recently the media coverage on the issue of migrant workers has increased and the issue was highlighted at three events: the Dubai Expo, the pandemic and the Qatar World Cup.
Over the last few years, the countries, companies, investors and related groups have discussed the violations at national and international levels. However, the challenges of workers remain the same. The tricky part is not the making of the law but the implementation and enforcement of the law.
The cries of migrant workers go unnoticed and unheard. The organisations, the governments, the nation states and the companies ignore the voices of the migrant workers.
The present situation of Indian migrant workers
A third of the Indian workforce is mobile. Migrant workers fuel the most important sectors such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture and logistics.
Six countries in the Gulf account for close to 50 per cent of Indian migrant workers.
Currently, there are over 13.4 million Non-Resident Indians worldwide according to the Ministry of External Affairs. 64% of Indian migrants live in the GCC Countries. The highest number of Indian migrants reside in UAE followed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
According to the International Labour Organisation, 90% of the Indian migrants who live in GCC countries are low- and semi-skilled migrant workers.
Though the Parliament of India has enacted the Emigration Act from time to time it hasn’t helped the migrants much. Their exploitation continues.
Gulf Countries faced intense international scrutiny over their treatment of migrant workers. One such country is Qatar. According to the Human rights organisation, two million migrant workers make up an estimated 95% of Qatar’s workforce. The country has been accused of ill-treatment of its workers. There is no basic insurance or health coverage for the workers when they are hurt in an accident at the workplace.
Recently, Qatar made headlines for its violations of labour rights. The death in the construction of a stadium for the football World Cup grabbed people’s attention. Majority of the workers that died in the accidents in last 10 years in Qatar were Indians.
Also, fingers were pointed towards the Gulf Countries Council (GCC) for not providing proper health care, wages and social protection to the workers. Of the challenges faced by migrants, The harmful ‘Kafala System’ is the most dangerous. It is a sponsorship system in the Gulf that gives employers to wield enormous power over the lives of migrant workers. Due to its ill effects, the system is rightly called “modern-day slavery”.
Due to the global criticism of the Kafala System, the GCC nations have reformed labour laws. The step is a significant one in making the region migrant labour friendly. Forums like the Abu Dhabi Dialogue is a progressive one in this field. The forum is concerned with developing informative orientation programmes for migrant workers.
MoUs are signed between the country of destination and the country of origin of the workers.
Portals are launched for awareness and filing complaints of migrant workers. In India, Madad Portal has been launched for the migrant workers from the country to file their grievances.
The path ahead
The issue of migrant workers is much highlighted and discussed topic currently. Countries are taking efforts to bring changes in the existing conditions of migrant workers. But the need of the hour is Joint efforts taken by the country of origin and destination countries.
Building collective conscience on global labour mobility will help address the issue. The nations should work on building regional and international alliances for the betterment of workers.
The International labour markets and the Human rights organisation also have important roles to play. Migrant workers should be given the proper treatment and should be given adequate access to healthcare services. They should be ensured proper employment and wage which will bring economic and social security to them.
Civil societies, governments and shareholders should work hand in hand towards the betterment of the situation of migrant workers.