Equidem expert presents India country report at labour migration event in Kathmandu, Nepal

-- Equidem expert presents India country report at labour migration event in Kathmandu, Nepal

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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Equidem’s senior investigator for India and Arab Gulf, Rejimon Kuttappan, was at the South Asian civil society consultations on labour migration organised by Migrants Forum in Asia and the Solidarity Center in Kathmandu, Nepal between 13-14 November 2018. Rejimon gave a detailed review of the government of India’s policies on overseas labour migration including the eMigrate platform as part of civil society consultations on the Colombo Process. Established in 2003, the Colombo Process is a regional consultative process on the management of overseas employment and contractual labour from countries of origin in Asia including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and The Philippines.

The elephant in the room continues to be the issue of high recruitment fees charged to Indian migrant workers. Recruitment payments are one of the leading causes of forced labour in global supply chains. Every day, thousands of men and women from India – employed in a variety of roles including as construction labourers, security guards, or domestic maids – are forced to pay large amounts of money in illegal recruitment fees. Indian workers who migrate to Qatar pay on an average of $1149 for a job in the country, equivalent to about two and a half months of prospective earnings.

The employer-pays principle states: No worker should pay for a job - the costs of recruitment should be borne not by the worker but by the employer. This should lie at the heart of any meaningful dialogue on fair and ethical recruitment. Unfortunately, the Indian government, to date, has not invited discussions or introduced any proposals on the employer-pays principle.

In 2014, the Indian government made efforts to streamline the recruitment process of Indian workers by launching eMigrate – an online platform seeking to bring together key stakeholders linked to any worker recruitment programme: recruitment agent, the employer, and internal government authorities. Foreign employers and recruitment agents intending to recruit Indian workers are required to register and formally apply to recruit workers on the eMigrate platform. The application is reviewed by local authorities which include various details of the employer, recruitment agent, and prospective migrant workers who have been selected for available jobs.

However, employers and recruitment agents accuse the government of setting up a time-consuming and overly strict process that causes recruitment delays and set up further additional legal requirements on intending employers to recruit workers. Because of this, employers routinely bypass the eMigrate system and recruit workers through irregular and alternate channels.

In an attempt to encourage informal sub-agents to legally register as a recruitment agent, the government of India has lowered the registration fee for new recruitment agencies from 50,00,000 Indian rupees ($70,310) to 10,00,000 rupees ($14,060). This is a positive measure and can help improve regulation a number of informal actors who currently operate outside the purview of the law. But it has, at the same time, failed to promote responsible legally-registered recruitment agencies who have a track record of ethical and fair recruitment practices.

The recruitment of Indian migrant workers is governed by the Emigration Act, 1983, which outlines the institutional framework for overseas migration, including the general duties and functions of the Protectors of Emigrants (the institutional body set up to advise and protect all migrants) and set up a regulatory framework of Emigration Clearances to prevent the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers who are typically less educated and/or have not travelled to the Gulf before.

But the law does not adequately reflect international labour conventions on regulating recruitment agencies, investigating and prosecuting serious human rights crimes including forced labour and human trafficking, and provide workers effective access to legal remedy. Attempts to reform this legislation have been delayed and blocked. A draft bill prepared in 2009 with stronger legal support measures for workers is pending and has not even been introduced in Parliament.

The Colombo process is an important regional process to improve institutional mechanisms to protect migrant workers and it is through collective responses like this one that decent work conditions can be established based on human dignity.

About the Colombo process consultation meeting in Nepal

The Colombo process South Asian civil society consultations on labour migration were attended by South Asian civil society representatives and officials from the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the South Asian Regional Trade Union Council (SARTUC) on November 13 and 14. The objective of the meeting was to provide points of recommendation to the Colombo Process’ Fifth Senior Officials' Meeting and Sixth Ministerial Consultation held in Kathmandu on November 15 and 16.