[Editorial] Indian Worker Deaths in Qatar- Issue of Overseas Workers’ Well-being

What happened in Qatar?

  • This November, Qatar is to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup at 8 state-of-the-art stadium. These stadiums were built by thousands of labourers, including many Indians.
  • The Indian External Affairs Ministry reported that some 3,313 Indians lost their lives in Qatar between 2011 and 2022. Note that Qatar got the World Cup rights in 2010.
  • According to the Lok Sabha records, some 72,114 Indian workers reached Qatar in just the 2020-22 period.
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Why is this significant?

  • The Indian diaspora is the largest overseas community in the world. It consists of more than 18 million PIOs (persons of Indian origin) and 13 million NRIs.
  • Over 8 million Indian workers reside and work in the Gulf countries. Their annual remittances to India is more than $25 billion.
  • These worker are mainly unskilled or semi-skilled. Many of these workers are recruited through a visa sponsorship system that ties their residency permit to a sponsor, enabling agents to exploit workers desperate for any kind of employment.
  • Gulf countries’ administrations are known for their lack of transparency, non-recognition of labour rights and disallowing unionization– further aggravating the situation.
  • Adding to this, the Indian workers in the Gulf countries have very low bargaining power because of the availability of cheap global labour.

What are some government initiatives to support overseas workers?

  • Kerala has been a pioneer in exporting labour to the Gulf region, since the 1970s. The state has created several institutional checks and systems to put a safety net in place for the migrant workers.
    • NORKA ROOTs is the nodal agency for non-residents of the state. It provides a personal accident insurance cover of up to 4 lakh INR and critical care cover of 1 lakh INR.
    • It also coordinates with Gulf governments and organizations in critical situations, like repatriating people.
  • The Indian Centre for Migration is a not-for-profit society set up by the External Affairs Ministry in 2008.
    • It functions as a research think tank on all matters associated with international migration.
    • It undertakes pilot projects on best practices. It organizes workshops and seminars in collaboration with international bodies, state governments and academic institutions.
    • It has been studying the international labour market trends and contributing to skill development and upgradation programs to boost overseas employment opportunities.

What is the way ahead?

  • With regards to overseas workers, there aren’t easy solutions to the issues of labour welfare. However, these workers are Indian passport holders and their well-being should be a priority for India. Also, outward migrations wouldn’t be subsiding in the near future, despite the Gulf countries no longer offering competitive wages.
  • Measures like pre-departure training helps improve workers’ awareness of their rights and helps equip them to tackle crises, such as dishonouring of contractual obligations by employers, at overseas labour sites, can help the situation.
  • Indian embassies should prioritize overseas workers’ concerns.
  • The Indian government needs to start dialogue with the Gulf countries’ governments on improving labour welfare conditions and oversight in contractual enforcement.

Conclusion:

Even as fans gather at the Qatar stadiums to witness one of the greatest football events, it is important to keep in sight the labour that went into building these massive structures. It mustn’t be forgotten that many Indian lives were lost during its construction. It should serve as a reminder of the importance of giving policy attention for our overseas workers.

Practice Question for Mains:

In view of the upcoming FIFA World Cup to be hosted by the 8 Qatari stadiums, discuss the issues faced by Indian overseas workers. What are some government measures towards their welfare? What more needs to be done? (250 words)

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