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Protection of Migrant Workers

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October 26, 2022

What is the issue?

The stories of exploitation and labour violations faced by Indian workers in the Gulf countries should be looked at by remembering the five-decade history of migration to the region.

How about the picture of migration in India?

  • Globally, India ranks first in terms of international migrants and remittances.
  • 6 countries in the Gulf alone account for close to 50% of Indian migrants.
  • As per the latest Kerala Migration Survey (2018), close to 2 million Keralites reside in the Gulf.
  • The Kafala or sponsorship system in the Gulf enables employers to wield significant power over the lives of migrant workers.
  • Under the Kafala system a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (kafeel) for their contract period.
  • The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.
  • Often the kafeel exerts further control over the migrant worker by confiscating their passport and travel documents, despite legislation in some destination countries that declares this practice illegal.
  • The exploitation of migrants led Parliament to enact the Emigration Act of 1983.

What is the accusation on GCC countries?

The GCC is a political and economic union of Arab states bordering the Gulf. It was established in 1981 and its 6 members are the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.

  • Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have been accused of not providing healthcare services, employment and social protection for workers during Covid-19.
  • This led to large-scale repatriation during the pandemic.
  • The Return Migration Survey conducted among 2,000 Vande Bharat returnees to Kerala revealed that among 47% who lost their jobs, 39% have reported non-payment of wages and reduction in wages.
  • During the Dubai Expo 2020, there were several reports of non-payment of wages, contract violations and intimidation of workers.
  • There are concerns over the rights violations and deaths of migrant workers during the construction of stadiums for the football World Cup to be held in Qatar.
  • The countries are also implementing nationalisation policies, which could lead to forceful job termination.

What efforts were taken in this regard?

  • Due to the massive reporting of labour rights violations and criticism of the Kafala system, GCC countries are trying to reform labour laws.
  • The Abu Dhabi Dialogue, a regional forum, is keen on developing information orientation programmes for workers, promoting technology platforms, and reforms in domestic workers’ laws.
  • The Government of India’s portal “Madad” has enabled migrant workers from the country to file their grievances.

What is the need of the hour?

  • As much as the country of destination, the country of origin must also be responsible for the current situation.
  • The draft Emigration Bill of 2021 (originally drafted in 2019) should be tabled fast.
  • The bottlenecks in the countries of destination and origin imply a need for a joint effort to address the issues of migrants.
  • India should play a leading role in building regional alliances in the South Asia-GCC corridor.
  • A joint effort of all stakeholders including government, trade unions, recruitment agents and civil society can bring notable changes.



  1. The Indian Express | How we can protect migrant workers
  2. ILO | The Kafala System
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