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How we can protect migrant workers

GS Paper 2

Source: Indian Express

Syllabus: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

Directions: This Article has been taken from the Indian Express. Go through it once, you can use it for value addition.


Context:  There has been massive reporting of exploitation and labour violations faced by Indian workers in the Gulf countries.

Migration to Gulf countries:

  • Globally, India ranks as number one in terms of international migrants and remittances and six countries in the Gulf alone account for close to 50 per cent of Indian migrants.
  • According to the Ministry of External Affairs, there are over 13.4 million Non-Resident Indians worldwide.
    • Of them, 64% live in the GCC countries, the highest being in the UAE followed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
  • Almost 90% of the Indian migrants who live in GCC countries are low- and semi-skilled workers, as per International Labor Organization


Issue faced by migrants:

  • Ill effects of Kafala system: It is a sponsorship system in the Gulf that enables employers to wield significant power over the lives of migrant workers.
    • The media have likened employment conditions under kafala to “modern-day slavery.”
  • Labour rights violations: More recently, the media offered wide coverage of labour rights violations at three events — the Dubai Expo, the construction of stadiums for the Qatar world cup and the Covid pandemic.
  • Social security: Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have been accused of not providing healthcare services, employment and social protection for workers.
    • g witnessed during Covid 19 lockdown.
  • Wage theft: The Return Migration Survey revealed that among 47 per cent who lost their jobs, 39 per cent have reported non-payment of wages and reduction in wages.
    • Similarly, during the construction of the Football Stadium in Qatar for the coming FIFA World Cup, there were several reports of non-payment of wages, contract violations and intimidation of workers.
  • Occupational safety: As per the reports published by The Guardian, 6,500 migrant workers from South Asia have died in Qatar in the last 10 years majority being Indians mainly due to occupational hazards.

Efforts taken:

  • Reform by GCC countries in labour laws: Much of this is symbolic and tries to project the region as migrant-labour friendly.
    • However, the changes should be seen as a positive sign on the road to abolishing Kafala and other anti-labour laws.
  • Emigration bill 2021: It envisages comprehensive emigration management, institutes regulatory mechanisms governing overseas employment of Indian nationals and establishes a framework for the protection and promotion of the welfare of emigrants.
    • The bill is yet to be passed.
  • MoUs with GCC countries on domestic workers’ recruitment and prevention of irregular recruitment has had very little impact.
  • Madad Portal: It has enabled migrant workers from the country to file their grievances.
    • According to the Ministry of External Affairs website, about 95 per cent of the registered grievances were resolved.

Efforts needed: –

  • Need for a joint effort to address the issues of migrants rather than playing a blame game during situations like the pandemic and migrant deaths.
  • Developing a collective conscience on global labour mobility.
  • Building regional alliances: India should play a leading role in building regional alliances in the South Asia-GCC corridor.
  • Involving stakeholders: A joint effort of all stakeholders including government, trade unions, recruitment agents and civil society can bring notable changes.



As much as the country of destination, the country of origin is responsible for the current situation. As a key player in the South Asia-GCC migration corridor, India should serve as a role model for South Asia.


Insta Links

Prelims link

Mains Links:

Q. Indian Diaspora has an important role to play in South-East Asian countries’ economy and society. Appraise the role of Indian Diaspora in South- East Asia in this context. (UPSC Mains 2017)

Q. Critically examine the Emigration Bill 2021. Will it be sufficient to protect Indian workers overseas?