Anish P returned from Oman empty-handed last week on a charity air ticket.
On the day of his arrival, while he was on his way to Erumely in Kottayam from Kannur, his wife did not wait to meet him.
She was travelling to Munnar to rejoin as a nurse in the COVID-19 fight, a contract job.
“She was not willing to go on the same day I was coming. But if she didn’t do so, she wouldn’t even get that temporary job and we would struggle financially,” Anish told The Lede.
Anish was working as a steel fabricator in Oman. Due to COVID-19, the company was forced to stop its operations in March. And when the work was stopped, the salary was not paid. This was in addition to the non-payment of the salary of January and February. And finally, when Anish travelled back in June last week, he had to forget about five months’ salary.
Anish’s monthly salary was around Rs 24,000.
“Even the food was a problem. We had to depend on a charity group. We had to sleep with hunger pangs for a few days. Finally, with the help of a few good people, we returned. But I will go back again,” Anish said.
“There is no use in staying back here. Getting a job is very difficult here in Kerala. And I don’t have any other income sources. Additionally, I have a bank loan of Rs 5 lakh pending too. Two children are studying in school. If I don’t go back, then we won’t be able to live,” Anish added.
Anish knows that the COVID-19 crisis is not likely to end soon. But as the Arab Gulf countries are restarting activities, he is confident that he would be able to get a new job.
“There are no Gulf-returnee rehabilitation plans here in Kerala. Even if we succeed in taking some loans to start some small-scale projects, we will get trapped in red tape-ism. And eventually, we will run into loss and shut down the operations. So, I don’t want to do that. It is safer to return to Gulf and work, even if it is for a smaller salary,” Anish added.
If Anish is planning to return, Nikhil Antony, a mechanical engineer, who returned from Kuwait due to job loss is clueless as to what is next.
Since 2010, Nikhil has been travelling to Arab Gulf countries to work. He had worked in Qatar and UAE. In Qatar, he managed to work for four years. After returning, he migrated to UAE. But in UAE, due to the economic crisis in 2016, he was forced to quit.
“I decided not to migrate. But getting a job with decent pay here was quite difficult. So, I was looking for a job again in the Gulf. I found one in Kuwait and migrated in September 2019,” Nikhil said.
In Kuwait, Nikhil was deployed in a US army base camp for work. For the first two months, he was not paid, as the company claimed that as his work visa has not been issued, he cannot be given a salary. Nikhil agreed reluctantly. And finally, in February, the project got cancelled and Nikhil lost his job.
While Nikhil was looking for a fresh job, Kuwait locked down its borders due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
He got stranded without a job or food. Even shelter was a problem for him. However, finally, with the help of a few good friends, he reached Kerala.
Talking to The Lede from the quarantine centre, he said, he has no idea what to do next.
“My father is an AC mechanic. I would like to join him and start a small business. But I won’t get a loan because we don’t have a deed for our house. So, I am clueless about what is next. I have twin younger sisters. I have to take care of their future too,” Nikhil said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of migrants are losing jobs in the Arab Gulf countries.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) had said in May that around 50 lakh jobs would be lost in the Middle East itself.
There are 90 lakh Indians, including some 25 lakh Keralites, working in the Middle East.
And on June 30, it had said that there was a 14% dip in global working hours during the second quarter of 2020, equivalent to the loss of 400 million full-time jobs (based on a 48-hour working week).
This is a sharp increase on the previous Monitor’s estimate (issued on May 27), of a 10.7% drop (305 million jobs).
ILO says that the number of working hours lost across the world in the first half of 2020 was significantly worse than previously estimated, while the highly uncertain recovery in the second half of the year will not be enough to go back to pre-pandemic levels, even in the best case scenario, and risks seeing continuing large scale job losses.
Data shared Kerala government’s NORKA, an institution set up for the welfare of Keralites, in May revealed that out of 4.5 lakh who had registered to return from foreign countries, around 60,000 are jobless.
If the number was revealed in May, now, migrant rights activist in Arab Gulf say that we have to wait a little more to see the real numbers.
“Here the number of COVID-19 deaths are increasing. Last week, it was found that some 300 Keralites have died due to COVID-19 in the six Arab Gulf countries itself since March. Job crisis is worsening. So, people are returning in huge numbers. The Gulf is losing its sheen. Those who are continuing here are doing so only because they don’t have any other options for survival back in Kerala,” Lateefh Thechy, a social worker in Saudi Arabia, said.
Yet, when Indians are returning from Arab Gulf and other foreign countries due to job loss, does India or Kerala have a re-integration plan?