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Newspaper article

Chasing the golden goose

Date

2012-06-12

Newspaper title

The Hindu

Publisher

The Hindu

Place published

New Delhi, India

Full text

Fifty-year-old Lata came back from Dubai over a year ago after working as a domestic help and a caregiver to an old Indian lady for three years. Though plucky and street-smart, since she has come back, she has been running from pillar to post to retrieve the instalments she sent to a private builder every month for an elusive low income house in Delhi's Trilokpuri. She also finds that the sums of money, a large chunk of her earnings, she sent home to her family have been frittered away by her drunken husband and wayward son. She says she now has no energy to go back to work in another country, but apart from working as a domestic help in Delhi, she has started helping an agent for a small fee to recruit women looking for employment here or in the Gulf.

“Women queue up at my doorstep, but I do not refer all of them to the agent. You have to be of a certain type to survive in these countries. I did well, but look at me now…nothing to show for my hard work for years away from home,” she rues

Lata is just one among the thousands of unskilled women domestic workers who migrate to the Gulf to increase their income and build a life on their return home. Though she has been unlucky with her earnings, she fortunately did not have to face the hardship others have had to due to sponsorship labour policies where the employer is the sponsor and retains the worker's passport; the women often have to face sexual harassment, pathetic working conditions and other crises situations. Many have been trapped in the foreign country and have had to struggle to come back home. Others have accepted the poor working conditions they are placed in so that the remittances will help their families back home.

Despite the negatives, countries in the Gulf remain the El Dorado for migrant workers from South Asia, with the percentage of women workers increasing by the year. According to a report, “Migration of women workers from South Asia to the Gulf”, released on Monday by the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute and U.N. Women South Asia Sub Regional Office, female migrant workers from India as percentage of all international migrants account for 48.7 per cent.

Official data reveals that Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra figure as the major regions from where female unskilled workers take the flight to the Gulf. But increasingly, States like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are also figuring on the international migration map. The report attributes this to migration being “directly linked to persistent poverty and unemployment rates”. However, such migration of women workers has not come without its share of problems.

According to the report, migrants from South Asia “will continue to encounter discrimination and exploitation at different phases of the migration cycle, in both the sending and receiving countries.” Most of them work as domestic workers and live in poor living and working conditions and face exploitation by middle men, who take a substantial cut from their earnings.

The report notes their “marginal existence” considering they work in the confines of a home which is beyond the purview of labour law. Many of the women from the very first step face difficulties — the recruitment agencies are known to be unscrupulous. “Exorbitant” charges are demanded by them, documents are often tampered with to evade regulations which put the employee at a gross disadvantage. According to the report, “lack of adequate social protection for the women migrants and gender insensitive immigration policies are major factors perpetuating their insecurities.”

Of late, to remedy some of the ills and provide migrants better protection, the government has put in place bilateral agreements with several receiving countries. It has also introduced a compulsory insurance scheme for migrants where Indian migrant workers are given insurance which is valid as long as their job contract. Smart cards are being issued to first time migrants, which would have details of their passport, work contract data and insurance among others. All these measures are topped up with pre- departure training that familiarises the migrant with problems they could encounter in the receiving country and how to deal with them.

The report also points to the fact that most studies on migration have focused on remittances and not on the lack of protection mechanism for migrants. However, it says that a gradual change is taking place and the World Migration Report 2010 recognised the need to focus on the rights of migrant workers. The current study by the V.V. Giri Institute and UN Women hopes to set this right and endeavours to look at the issue through a “rights perspective”, focusing on the human instead of the economic angle of migration. Though what is missing from the report are case studies that would have given it a distinct human touch. Country profiles that have been included, however, are insightful as they provide a peep into each sending and receiving country's migration policy.

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Keywords

India, women migrant workers

Economic sectors

Occupations in services - Domestic work, Home child care providers, and Home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations

Content types

Policy analysis and Support initiatives

Target groups

Policymakers, Public awareness, Employers, agencies and their representatives, Researchers, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

India

Spheres of activity

Law and Social work

Languages

English