Shri Bhupender Yadav
Union Labour Minister
Dear Shri Yadav,
Following several news reports on the problems faced by Indian migrant workers in Qatar, I addressed the External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar on 29-3-2021 for taking up the matter with the concerned authorities in Qatar. A copy of my letter is available in your Ministry. I extract below a relevant portion of my letter for your ready reference.
“Most of the workers who took part in the construction of a prestigious sports stadium in Qatar were Indians, a large proportion of them from Kerala. They were not being paid reasonable wages and were forced to work for long hours in subhuman conditions. While such migrant workers make foreign exchange remittances in significant amounts that have helped maintain the balance of payments, the successive governments have not been able to negotiate with the host countries agreements to improve the conditions of the workers. On the other hand, dignitaries visiting Qatar and the other Middle East countries have been triumphantly signing agreements on investments and MOUs of collaboration in other areas, whereas the issue of migrant workers’ welfare should have been the top-of-the-agenda item”.
I find that the Indian migrant workers in Qatar continue to face problems as evident from a recent report (https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/qatar-evicts-migrant-workers-as-fifa-world-cup-looms-residents-3472327).
This is not an isolated report on the subject. One finds many such reports in the public domain on the plight of Indian and other migrant workers in Qatar, as evident from the following.
I have tried to access the website of the Indian embassy in Qatar at http://www.indianembassyqatar.gov.in/ to find out whether there have been any special efforts made by India to focus attention on migrant workers’ concerns. I find that the information at the website has not been updated since 12-7-2021. The portion relevant to the migrant workers at the website reads as follows.
“Both countries have a Joint Working Group on Labour and Manpower Development, which held its 6th meeting virtually in December 2020. The Embassy remains in close contact with the concerned authorities in Qatar to ensure the well-being of our workers and other Indian expatriates. Recent reforms introduced to labour laws in Qatar like abolition of the sponsorship system (Kafala System) through Law No. 21 of 2015, removal of the requirement to obtain employer’s consent to change jobs if the expatriate has completed his fixed term contract and imposition of penalty upon illegal confiscation of passports by employers are of interest to India. Qatar has also abolished the requirement of Exit Permit for 95% of the workforce in the private sector. Other reforms include the setting up of the Exit Permit Grievances Committee in the Ministry of Interior, streamlining the recruitment process through setting up of Labour Dispute Settlement Committees, bringing domestic-sector workers under a legal framework similar to other workers, creation of a Support Fund to settle the salary dues of workers of financially-distressed companies, setting up of International Labor Organization Office in Doha and also the proposal to institute a system of minimum wages for various categories of workers. With effect from March 2021, Qatar has introduced Minimum Wage Law for all sectors of work and provided for change of jobs without requiring NOC from the previous employer.”
While India has made some effort to address this problem by setting up a Joint Working Group on Labour & Manpower Development, the Group has not met after December, 2020, as indicated above. Apparently, the problems referred above have not yet been highlighted to the Working Group and no discussion has yet taken place.
While these migrant workers contribute significantly to the foreign exchange budget of India, not enough attention seems to have been given to ensuring their welfare.
It is widely known how unauthorised middlemen recruit migrant workers from different States in India, collecting huge recruitment charges and promising them attractive livelihoods in Middle Eastern countries including Qatar and how, after they reach their destinations, the workers are left to the mercy of the local employers. I have come across instances of such workers returning to India, with negligible savings and only sad experiences to remember.
Considering the significant contribution those workers make by way of foreign exchange remittances, should not your Ministry, in consultation with the External Affairs Ministry, address the day-to-day problems faced by the workers, activate the Joint Working Group on Labour and Manpower Development so as to escalate the problems for an effective bilateral discussion and ensure that the well being of the workers is fully taken care of?
I hope you will take the necessary initiative in this matter without delay.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India