June 04, 2006 PTI
NEW DELHI: With complaints of ill-treatment of Indian workers in Gulf countries on the rise, Government has decided to launch a crackdown on illegal recruitment and regulate emigration by making the laws stringent.
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) has decided to amend the 1983 Emigration Act to make punishment for illegal recruitment harsher by raising the minimum imprisonment to five years from the present six months.
The amount of fine will also be increased manifold from present Rs 1,000 to Rs 25,000.
The decision comes in the wake of two incidents of violence recently in Dubai involving expatriates, including Indians, who were not paid the promised wages.
By amending the Act, the ministry intends to make recruiting agents answerable and ensure proper screening of employment of each worker, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi said in an interview.
The aim is to ensure registration of recruiting agents and make them responsible for every recruitment and well-being of each person sent abroad for work.
"The recruiting agents will have to be answerable. They will be asked to present reports to the MOIA every year," Ravi said. This would form basis for renewal of their licenses.
To ensure proper implementation of the proposal, cooperation of state governments will be essential, he said.
The Emigration Act provides for a regulatory framework in respect of emigration of Indian workers for overseas employment on contractual basis and seeks to safeguard their interests and ensure their welfare.
The Act makes it mandatory for registration of all recruiting agents with the Protector General of Emigrants, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, before they conduct the business of recruitment for overseas employment.
Among other measures, the Overseas Ministry is going to make it compulsory that contracts and demand notes of all workers be attested by Indian Missions there before their travel permission is cleared.
In case of women going to various countries as domestic help, the Ministry intends to ensure that their database is maintained and they are able to be in touch with the Indian Missions at least once a week to convey their well-being.
Ravi, who assumed charge of the ministry five months ago, said these steps have been decided as a number of cases have come to light where the recruiting agents cheated the workers, virtually rendering them "bonded labourers" in alien land.
"This issue is being addressed on priority basis," he said.
Lakhs of Indians go to Gulf countries every year for job and there have been thousands of cases where the workers are not paid salaries as promised at the time of recruitment.
In several instances, the workers are not paid wages at all, a fact which got highlighted recently when migrant workers resorted to violent agitation in Dubai.
Ravi, who undertook a visit to Gulf countries recently, said the governments of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain had promised help to check exploitation of the Indian workers.