Minister outlines measures to check exploitation of labour Alexander M. Arrackal Staff Reporter

Minister for Overseas Indian Affair Vayalar Ravi yesterday revealed measures being adopted to check the exploitation of Indian labourers. In an exclusive interview with the Bahrain Tribune on the eve of his Bahrain visit, he highlighted on instructions issued to missions in this regard. What steps are being adopted by the Ministry for the protection and welfare of the Overseas Indians, especially women? The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has initiated a series of measures for better protection and welfare of Overseas Indians particularly women workers. Memoranda of Understanding with various labour receiving countries are to be signed in order to fulfill our commitment for protection and welfare of workers. We are trying to prescribe a model work contract with specified terms and conditions regarding minimum wages which would have to be attested by the Indian mission concerned. Work contracts which do not meet the criteria of minimum wages will not be attested by our embassies and hence the Government of India would not grant emigration clearance. A comprehensive amendment to the Emigration Act is being considered which will ensure better regulation of recruiting agents in India and better enforcement of measures to prevent illegal migration. Easy embassy access for the labourers and household service workers – Considering that housemaids are not allowed to leave the houses until such time as they run away how will they access the embassy? Are you planning to take the embassy to their doors? What steps are being adopted for this? The Heads of Indian Missions in the Gulf Cooperation Council member states have been advised to provide complete access to Indians working in the region. A day and night multi-lingual helpline with toll-free number in all our missions would be the first step in that direction. The Indian envoys in these countries have been asked to conduct open house sessions at the Indian Embassies to address the grievances of our workers. An Overseas Workers Resource Centre is also to be established with an Indian association/NGO to provide information/assistance and counseling in legal, financial and health related matters. What are the guidelines being laid down for the overseas workers resource centres? The Overseas Workers Resource Centre will function as a single window service provider to meet the legal, financial and healthcare needs of Overseas Indian Workers. Really it will function as a centre for dissemination of information, operate a helpline, provide temporary shelter for workers who are in need and extend legal, financial and medical counsel to overseas Indian workers. How will the missions ensure compliance in the following fields – adherence to minimum wages, prompt payment of wages, adherence to hours of work, ensuring protection from abuse? By amending the Emigration Act, it is proposed to provide for statutory role to the missions for the protection and welfare of Overseas Indian Workers. This will have to be done with the cooperation of the local government and by effective implementation of provisions of the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding between the sending and receiving countries. The Indian Mission will effectively use the Joint Working Group constituted under the Memorandum of Understanding and ensure compliance to matter such as minimum wages, payment of wages through banks, grievances redressal of workers, etc. How does the ministry intend reaching the shanties and the far flung villages of India with sustained awareness campaigns and orientation and skill upgradation programmes? The ministry has finalised the Nationwide Awareness Campaign which will be reaching over the next six months to educate potential emigrants in remote villages of India in five target states which are major source states for emigrant workers. These include Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Punjab. Subjects covered would include risks of illegal migration, the need to follow an appropriate documentation and to ensure proper adherence to various procedures before leaving for work overseas. This multimedia campaign will be in the regional languages through television, radio and newspapers. In addition, in partnership with the state government, the ministry has also launched a national skill upgradation programme to ensure that India is able to send better trained and skilled workers overseas.