Govt office set up to help labourers

Indian government goes full throttle into tackling increasing labour problems on the construction sites of the Gulf

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By  Conrad Egbert Published  February 11, 2006

The government of India will soon open a dedicated office to monitor the problems of Indian labourers in the Gulf region. “The proposal is still in the preliminary stages but yes, there are plans for such an office, which the government is now assessing,” G Guruchandran, joint secretary at the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs told Construction Week. New Delhi recently appointed a new minister for overseas Indian affairs, Vayalar Ravi, who said that his first priority as a minister was to find solutions to the problems of expatriate Indian labourers working in the Gulf region. “There are several problems that expatriate workers are facing and we’re trying to find solutions to all of them,” said Guruchandran. “The presence of dishonest labour recruitment agents is one of the biggest problems, and we’re trying to put a plan in place that will help us do this in the best manner possible.” Over the last year, Gulf states have experienced numerous strikes, demonstrations and protests by Indian construction workers who are often forced into virtual bonded labour by the enormous fees that are charged by recruitment agents. The workers take loans of up to US $3400 to pay recruitment agents’ fees, landing them in serious, sometimes permanent, financial debt. Guruchandran also said that smart cards for construction workers would soon come into effect. CW recently reported on the practice of illegally retaining workers’ passports in many Gulf countries. The introduction of smart cards could help solve the issue. The Indian government is now planning to introduce a series of measures to combat labour grievances such as the retention of passports and withholding workers’ pay.

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