23 October 2014
Indian migrant workers rescued from a Saudi prison.
– By Chandan Kumar
The recent shocking treatment of Indian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia highlights the need for a coordinated response to the violation of these workers’ rights. After an Indian construction worker was killed on the job, the company refused to repatriate the body. 41 of his comrades protested against this. They were charged with sedition and jailed for a year.
Distress migration in the search of livelihood is a huge problem in backward states like Bihar in India. Many wage hunters and livelihood gatherers coming from the most excluded communities, often migrate across national boundaries in search of sustenance, income for themselves and their families. Many such unorganized sector workers are often trafficked to the Gulf countries. The reason for this is that Gulf countries have a huge demand for both skilled and unskilled workers. These trafficked workers are often deprived of their labour rights and are subjected to extreme conditions of exploitation. Suffice to say that their working conditions are that of a perpetual condition of bondage.
In one such incident, a worker from a district ‘Siwan’ of Bihar, who was working for a big construction company in Saudi Arabia, died due to electric shock that he received at the factory. Consequently, the authorities of the concerned company started pressurizing the family of the deceased worker to conduct his funeral in Saudi Arabia, instead of sending his corpse back to his native place. Many workers from Bihar and other states of India along with some Asian countries organized to demand for compensation for the family of the deceased worker and for sending back his corpse to his native place. But the company rejected these demands. Also, the 41 workers who were leading and organizing this protest, were booked under sedition and sentenced for two months in the jail. These workers were in the jail for almost more than a year, which was much longer than their original sentence.
According to the legal provisions of Saudi Arabia, any convict who serves a longer sentence that his stipulated time period is entitled to a compensation of 500 Rial per day. If we are to go by this, all those 40 workers who have served a much longer sentence than their stipulated time period are also entitled to this compensation. The Saudi state is legally bound to pay this compensation amount to the detained workers. While the Ministry of External Affairs of the current central government helped in expediting the process of the release of the workers from the jail and sending them back to their native places, it could not secure for them their compensation. This has been made possible due to the intervention of Indian parliamentarian Mr. Ali Anwar.
In the light of the recent events and owing to its constant endeavours towards the actualization of labour rights, ActionAid India thinks that the rights of the migrant workers is an extremely pertinent issue and requires careful attention and rigorous intervention. Therefore, we organized a daylong seminar in Patna on 19th of this month, where the importance of an adequate and a sensitive state policy for migrant workers was discussed and emphasized. The objective of this programme was also to propose the establishment of state sponsored Migrant Workers Help Centres, where a proper mechanism of maintaining the records of the migrant workers can be enabled. These centres shall also provide pro bono legal aid to all those in distress. The programme demanded the prompt identification of the nexus of traffickers who are behind this inhumane practice and book them under the IPC. This should be accompanied by the strict implementation of the Immigration Act of 1983.
ActionAid salutes the spirit of the 41 worker comrades and stands in solidarity with them in their cause and their endeavour. We also honour them with an amount of Rs. 10,000, which shall aid them in their interim rehabilitation. To further the cause of this programme and to make it more successful and concrete, the honourable chief minister of the state of Bihar Mr. Jeetaram Manjhi presided over as the chief guest and announced additional compensation to rescued Bihari workers- RS 50,000 ex gratia, Rs 1,00,000 who faced physical violence and support for getting Job.
What can you do?
Our friends in the trade unions and other forums should join us in addressing these issues of growing violations on worker’s rights and holding the firms that employ people in conditions of bondage/slavery, accountable and answerable.
– Chandan Kumar works for ActionAid India