Amendment of the Indian Emigration Act of 1983 has been necessitated to eliminate the fraud that agents have resorted to, by collecting huge fees from aspiring visa–seekers. It also forms part of the reforms in Indian labour law. New laws will help weed out fraudulent agents, with stronger punishments, said Vayalar Ravi, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, during a meeting with the media in Bahrain yesterday. In an aside, Ravi told the Tribune that agents resorting to illegal means to recruit domestic workers will be sentenced to five-year imprisonment. He said that the Emigration Act of 1983 was being amended in tune with the modern realities. “We will check to ensure that there are no complaints and help good agents to bring their practices in line with the government principles. The emigration fee is to be increased from Rs3000 to an amount that has to be decided by the cabinet,” he said. “Accountability of recruiting agencies will be increased. We have changed some conditions to include punishing fraudulent agencies.” Addressing a query by the Tribune on the funds collected by Emigration Department over the years, he said it was believed to be in the Consolidated Fund of India, and from information available it is with the CAG. “It is yet to be traced. I am told it is not a huge amount. It belongs to the Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs and we need it for our funds,” he said. The minister told the media that a discussion on the MoU on labour reforms has also begun and almost reached the final stage. The details of the MoU have to be explained and approved by the government and ministries here. “I have invited the Minister of Labour, Dr Majeed Al Alawi, to India officially. We hope to sign the MoU during the visit of the minister. The dates will be decided by Dr Alawi,” he added. Disclosing that it was too early to give details on the MoU the minister said that the memorandum would ensure protection, with contract by employers having to be adhered to. The terms of the contract, including the salary, the living conditions, the healthcare and other facilities, will be protected. The government has to ensure that these conditions are protected even in the host country. The contract should be according to the laws of the land or better, but never at a lower rate. “Primarily, domestic workers are under Home Ministry not under labour. We want it brought under labour. We want them to be brought under the MoU,” he said. “India is also reforming its recruiting system. The agents will be part of it, but they will work within the framework of humane approach and maintain transparency and accountability. I am introducing them to the accountability to the government. This is one of the conditions to be introduced for the licensing system. This is expected to curb or eliminate complaints of exploitation from the poor in India.” Reading into the Bahrain labour laws, he said that the LMRA, from what he understood, was expected to eliminate the sponsor system and bring about a closer rapport between the employer and the employee. “I am yet to study the impact of the LMRA and how it will impact the labour market. In India I am making reforms in the outflow of manpower. The reforms will help our people to work directly. “My first impression is that the reforms in Bahrain will help in bringing an order for people coming here to work. I believe that the reforms will help in eliminating the sponsor system – which abets corruption and exploitation. Issuing a visit visa and selling it as a job visa, has led to the people being defrauded in India. These visit visas for two months are sold as job visas. When the people come here after paying huge sums, they find the truth and then they overstay. It is a result of a large number of people overstaying that the amnesty has been introduced. If they come here and start working then they lose the freedom. This then creates problems.” The issue of minimum wages, he told the media, will have to be addressed at many levels. “First, there are no minimum wages for worker at this stage. The employment visa for the skilled or unskilled workers has no bounding on the minimum wages. Minimum wages have been fixed for the domestic workers, especially women. “The rule of minimum wage for domestics is meant only for Indians, not for the people here. It is for my people to obey the laws. When I come here I am expected to obey the laws here. My laws are for Indians. Those who want to work as domestic help, may enter into a contract with a foreign sponsor on the terms and conditions we specify. The minimum wage drawn should be BD100. If the sponsor is willing to take Indian domestic help then the contract has to be according to our rules. Those who are already here will not be covered by this law, since they already have a contract and have to abide by it. We have been forced to tighten the laws to curb exploitation, resulting in the embassy here being forced to open its shelter. Employment contracts signed from India have to comply with our rules.” “The plight of the women who come here had been discussed by many organisations in India, including the various women’s organisations. It is a matter of concern for us,” the minister said. “Most women who come to the Gulf are from Andhra. From other parts of India it is very difficult, considering that self help groups and micro-financing in rural areas have had an impact on their lives for the better. Women for domestic work now come from a few pockets from Andhra. “I appointed a committee and it is my decision to bring in these restrictions. The wage condition is a continuation of the existing rules, including the 30-year age qualification for those travelling to other countries as domestic workers. “We are not compelling any citizen from any other country to obey our laws. We are only saying that our people if they have to sign contracts must do so on a minimum wage of BD100. Many women have been provoked or instigated to take up employment at low wages. We are stopping this. As a step to bettering opportunities, we are also introducing training through state governments. We are financing the states. They are being given orientation to the domestics on the language and the skills required,” he said. “Every domestic worker leaving India will have to get the contract attested by the embassy of India in that host country. In addition, a certain amount of money has to be deposited with the embassy, contact numbers have to be provided and the $400 wage agreement has to be implemented. “Those employees and agents who want to jump the fence will find it difficult, because we have restrictions provided through computerisation at the airport. Prosecution of such people will be done at the airports itself. Fraudulent agents will find it difficult, because their bonafides are checked with the state governments, he said. “I am in constant touch with the state governments to prosecute bogus agencies that exist only on paper. I am coordinating penal measures with state governments, since only the state government has the right to penalise an agency operating in its jurisdiction. My ministry cannot prosecute,” he said. “The Protector General of Emigrants is in touch with the state governments to contain and eliminate as much fraud as we can. Complaints from the Gulf are processed almost immediately. We are trying to get to perfection, though we are not yet there,” he added. “Computer link with airports is a must because we have taken away the emigration clearance for visit visas. Let me also inform here that no such relaxation on visit visas is available for women. However, we have been able to computerise and link the airports, embassies and the ministry to a large extent. By November we plan to complete the link.” “The MoUs with UAE and Kuwait, he said, have created a good environment. It also helped us to review the situation on a monthly and half-yearly meetings. Officers meet every month. The half-yearly meetings will be in India and in the host country. This helps the embassy leverage legal matters including non-payment of salaries with the host country’s Labour Ministry,” Ravi said. Orientation of the unskilled and skilled workers, he said, is with state governments. “Rs10 million has already been given, more is available and the state governments have been informed. They are doing their best.” He added that an Overseas Employment Council, a national body, has to be set up to study the employment potentials that exist outside the country and make the recommendations to the state governments. “Our website will also have the information. Credible agents will also avail of this facility. The state government receives the fund and gives it to the ITIs.” “We are asking the state government to upgrade skills to meet with the demand arising in different parts of the world. He also said that he was here to interact with the Indian community for them to participate in the Pravasi Bharathiya Divas, which will be held in New Delhi from January 7 to 9.

Minister silences Indian envoy

Indian minister Vayalar Ravi, who was on a state visit to Bahrain, unexpectedly found himself in an awkward position following a Press Conference yesterday when Indian Ambassador Balakrishna Shetty launched a second broadside against the Tribune and its reporter for not being sufficiently ‘pro-Indian.’ The Ambassador had begun this diatribe the night before at an official dinner when he informed the minister that this newspaper did not portray a positive picture of events concerning India. The minister was clearly not impressed seeing as how he had just given Tribune an exclusive interview from India. When the minister called this reporter yesterday morning to ask him why he had not been seen during the dinner, he was told that the ambassador’s decision to make these needless comments compelled his departure from the official function as is the norm for journalists when they are invited to social functions and insulted without provocation by the host. The minister was nonplussed and asked this reporter to specially meet him at the Friday conference. But he was more confused at the heated remarks which were made after the conference and finally he requested the ambassador to stop the conversation. When the ambassador persisted, the minister showed his exasperation and insisted that he did not want to hear anymore on the subject and he saw no cause for it. A little later Ambassador Shetty left the venue. This reporter was called later in the day by the Indian minister on the telephone who displayed the courtesy and grace of suggesting that the ambassador’s remarks not be taken to heart and were better ignored. Alexander M. Arrackal