A number of rules are in place to protect the interest of workers going abroad, says a Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs official.
By Joseph Varghese
With increasing focus on problems faced by people seeking overseas jobs and those already working abroad, the government of India has adopted several measures, most important among them being steps to counter the issues associated with recruitment.
Two of the major issues have been identified as illegal operators and exploitation by middlemen, Indian officials have told Gulf Times.
During this correspondent's visit to India, several officials, who wanted to stay anonymous, referred to the efforts taken by the government to improve the process of recruitment of overseas labour.
A senior official at the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs said that the government has enforced several new regulations in the whole process to safeguard the interests of the job-seekers. Recruitment agencies in India have to observe strict procedures while recruiting workers for foreign clients. They have also been made accountable in their dealings with potential candidates.
He said: “If we receive any complaint from the workers, we can suspend the licence of the recruitment firm even without conducting an inquiry. If charges are levelled repeatedly against a recruitment firm, we cancel their licence and seize the deposit of Rs 2mn which such companies have to place with the ministry for a licence."
The official pointed out that there were a number of rules in place to protect the interest of the workers going abroad. He noted that the government has been able to curtail many of the malpractices through tough actions.
He elaborated: “Severe actions such as fines and punishments including long jail terms to curb the illegal practices in recruitment are bearing fruit. We have been able to control illegal recruitment in a big way. We have strictly enforced age restriction on the recruitment of female workers which has helped in reducing malpractices and abuses to a great extent.”
He, however, pointed out that countries should ensure the welfare of the workers when they reach their destination. He commented: “Sometimes we come across complaints from workers and their relatives about ill-treatment. This is a grey area and some strict and fair action must be taken by the authorities concerned. If Gulf countries can do away with sub-agents and recruit directly, it will help protect the rights of the labourers in a big way. We have also appealed to governments to look into the allegations of ill-treatment of some of the workers by middlemen. But the majority of the overseas workers who get back to us feel they have been fairly treated by their employers.”
One of the undersecretaries at the ministry noted that meetings were held regularly with the officials of manpower receiving countries to discuss labour issues.
He said: “We have discussed basic issues such as salary and living conditions of the labourers. Recently, there was a meeting in Sri Lanka with participation of representatives of labour supplying countries and labour receiving countries. While dealing with the key issues such as employment contract and salary, countries, including Qatar, responded very positively and we expect favourable outcomes soon.”
The official said that Indian Personnel Export Promotion Council, the trade association representing government approved recruitment agencies in India, has more than 450 members.
“It is important that people looking for employment abroad should approach only the right and authorised agents in India. There are a number of fraudulent people around, despite the vigorous campaign we have undertaken. We are running a lot of advertisements on the national media as part of our awareness campaign aimed at cautioning people about the pitfalls in the recruitment process. Especially the unskilled and semiskilled workers have to approach only government-approved agencies so that they are not cheated.”
Another official pointed out that foreign employers have to make sure that they approach only licensed and registered agencies. “If an employer approaches any illegal agent, that itself is a foul sign. Anyone who is interested in doing right business, will approach only the registered firms and not illegal agents or sub-agents."
He also suggested that foreign governments have to control sub-agents and manpower companies operating in their countries. He highlighted the practice of outsourcing jobs to smaller companies, "some of which are to be blamed for much of the problems associated with expatriate labour".
He stated: “In this case, the sub- agents make huge profits by charging high amounts from the original employer. In return they pay less to the employees and deny them many of the perks like vacation, air tickets and end of service benefits. But the number of workers who come under this category is relatively small. Also, all manpower companies do not treat their workers badly. While people readily narrate any bad experience, the vast majority who are thankful for their jobs keep mum."
Number of complaints falls
Rajvardhan, assistant commissioner of police for Economic Offences Wing, Crime Branch, Mumbai said complaints about recruitment agencies or some sort of cheating in the process of recruitment were being lodged on a daily basis in Mumbai. He said that most of the complaints were either about loss of money or documents like passports given to the recruiting agencies.
However, he pointed out that the number of such complaints has come down in recent times. He stated: “Most of the job-seekers come from distant places to Mumbai and stay for many days or weeks to get the process completed. Many of them are unaware of the procedures and the agencies, especially the illegal ones, take advantage of them."
Rajvardhan said he has also come across people returning from the GCC complaining about ill-treatments meted out to them by their employers.
He explained: “Some of the returning employees from the GCC countries tell us about their bad experiences. These include low salary, switching of contracts, no overtime pay and other similar complaints. Most of the complainants are returnees from Saudi Arabia. There were also complaints from other GCC countries. It is very difficult for the police to act on such issues as the cases have to be investigated on foreign soil. This makes it difficult for the workers to get justice. What we can do is to refer such cases through the proper channels to our diplomatic missions in those countries.”
The central government has a dedicated ministry to look into the affairs of overseas Indians. States like Kerala that send out a large number of workers to foreign countries have full-fledged departments like the Non-Resident Keralites’ Affairs Department (Norka) to look after the interests of their non-resident population. Irrespective of the differences in opinion about the usefulness of these government departments, two things are certain; the administrative measures have proved to be effective in curbing malpractices in recruitment and the upsurge in the Indian economy has led to huge opportunities for unskilled workers locally, thus making emigration for work less necessary.