Rights Activists Unhappy After India Scraps Rescue Scheme in Kuwait, Oman
The bank guarantee scheme was introduced amid reports of widespread abuse of domestic workers in Gulf nations.
India’s decision to scrap the bank guarantee scheme for employers in Kuwait and Oman is drawing criticism from human rights campaigners. Many believe that the revoking of these schemes will make it harder for domestic workers who are abused or unpaid to get home.
India had recently scrapped the $2,500 bank guarantee in Kuwait, followed by a similar decision for the $2,800 guarantee in Oman. The decision was taken because employers and recruitment agencies maintained that it was discouraging them from hiring Indian workers.
The move, however, has been met with apprehension from social activists. Josephine Valarmathi of National Domestic Workers Movement in India said the removal of the bank guarantee protection for Indian women domestic workers in Gulf countries will leave them less protected. Valarmathi observed that the guarantee came to the rescue when the employer failed to pay the salary. “Now, we won’t have that,” she told NDTV.
The bank guarantee scheme was put in place in 2014 as a welfare move and required the foreign employer to deposit the money in the Embassy of India in the destination country. The scheme acted as a shield for women domestic workers in case the employer failed to pay wages, or if the worker was subjected to abuse and required compensation and financial aid to return home. This scheme was introduced amid reports of abuse of domestic workers in Gulf nations and applied to workers hired through the six recognized state recruitment agencies. It did not apply to women using unofficial channels or those conned by fake agents.
Withdrawal of the scheme poses great risk to the Indian women employees, Rafeek Ravuther, the director of Kochi-based Centre for Indian Migrant Studies (CIMS), was quoted as saying by Firstpost. “I read that the Indian embassy in Kuwait is ‘welcoming’ the move stating that removal will open more job opportunities for Indian domestic workers. I also read that the annual job numbers will rise to 30,000. Why are they not understanding that job opportunities without protection is a risk?”
According to Oman government data, almost 700,000 Indians live and work in the Arab nation, 6 per cent of whom are women. Usually, men are employed as construction workers, gardeners and drivers. There are 9.2 lakh Indians in Kuwait as of October 2016, out of which, about 2.7 lakh are employed in the domestic sector, while about 3.6 lakh have jobs in the private sector, as per data available with the Indian Embassy in Kuwait.
India had attempted to increase worker protection by setting up the E-migrate system in 2015, which required employers in almost 20 countries, mostly in the Middle East, to get online clearance from the government to hire blue-collar workers and domestic helps.
As of now, such bank guarantee provisions are present in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. Bahrain, however, held talks with Indian authorities in February this year to scrap the scheme. A decision on this, with regard to Bahrain, hasn’t been taken yet.
According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, India authorised around 60,000 domestic workers in a period of two years up to December 2016 .While Kuwait is the first country in the Gulf region to have a labour law for domestic workers, activists point out that the law fails many a time to protect the workers’ rights. For instance, Kuwait has set $200 as minimum salary for migrant domestic workers but it isn’t applied in practice, they say.
Human Rights Watch has documented widespread abuses of workers, which include non-payment or delay of wages, long working hours with no rest days, physical and sexual assault, and lack of clear channels for complaint redressal.