Nearly 7 million Indian workers in the oil-rich emirates of the Gulf are victims of the economic crisis there, exacerbated by the sharp fall in oil prices.
By official estimates, over 3 million Indians work in Saudi Arabia, another 2.2 million in the United Arab Emirates and more than 2 million in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Workers from India and other countries of South Asia make up the bulk of the working population in these countries.
Media reports indicate that in the last few weeks, the rulers of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman have announced cutbacks in various sectors, changes in taxation, mass retrenchment of workers, wage cuts, no increments and other measures for the workers to “tighten their belts”. These measures have been systematically carried out for the last 3-4 years, steadily affecting the workers.
The condition of these workers was sharply brought into focus in August 2016, when it was reported that tens of thousands of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia and various Gulf countries were being literally forced to starve, living in miserable camps without any basic amenities, for several weeks and months on end. These workers, employed in construction and other companies, were thrown out of their jobs without any compensation, in the wake of the economic slowdown in these oil exporting countries triggered by the sharp fall in oil prices. Many of these workers had not been paid any salaries for the last 6-8 months. They had no money to even buy their plane tickets to come back to India.
While being fully aware of the severe exploitation and ill-treatment, insecurity, harassment and denial of even basic rights that Indian workers in the Gulf countries face, successive Indian governments have done nothing over the years, to ensure these workers their rights. The Indian State has no labour rights agreement with the governments of these countries, for the vast majority of the Indian workers there, who work in the oil and construction sectors, or as nurses and other technical professionals. The Indian state looks at these workers as merely a source of revenue. However, given the prevailing conditions, these remittances have been rapidly falling in recent years.
The Indian state has been expressing concern about the falling remittances and shedding crocodile tears about these workers losing their jobs and forced into destitution. However, the Indian state has never taken any steps to defend the rights of the Indian workers in these countries. It has never used its diplomatic relations with the governments of these countries to protect the rights of the Indian workers.
The conditions of poverty and unemployment in India, lack of jobs inspite of being educated and skilled, forces lakhs of young men and women to seek a livelihood in countries abroad. A vast majority of these are in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Many of these workers have had to take massive loans and pay huge sums of money to touts, who organize their jobs and travel documents. Therefore, despite the harsh conditions they face, their earnings from their jobs in the West Asian countries are an extremely important source of income for them and their families back in India. In the present situation they would be left with no option but to return to India, to face the grinding poverty and deprivation and an extremely uncertain future.
Communist Ghadar Party extends its full sympathy and support to our hard working sisters and brothers in the Gulf countries. CGPI denounces the criminal callousness of the Indian state towards Indian workers abroad.