The Lede first reported in early June that Indian workers in Gulf are subjected to wage theft
The Kerala High Court has instructed the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Labour, Kerala government and NORKA to respond on setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism for Indian migrant workers abroad.
The court issued the instruction while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Lawyers Beyond Borders (LBB), an international network of legal experts, advocating for the rights of migrant workers.
In the PIL, the lawyers had said that as the repatriation of workers is done in a hurry from COVID-hit countries, especially from the Middle East, justice is not delivered.
The PIL said that workers are forced to give up their pending salaries and there is no mechanism to address their grievances either.
The court observed that "The issues raised in the petition are having public importance; needs to be addressed seriously and the respondents should make an effective mechanism for redressal of grievances following the Indian constitution and international treaties.”
The court has told the ministries, Kerala government and NORKA to respond on July 16.
The Lede was the first to report on wage theft happening in the Arab Gulf and the lack of a transitional justice mechanism.
Citing COVID-19, employers in the Arab Gulf are denying migrant workers their unpaid wages and end of service benefits.
The Lede had reported in detail how workers are giving up their wages and end of service benefits and returning empty-handed.
Subhash Chandran KR, Supreme Court lawyer, who had filed the petition on behalf of LBB said that wage theft is a serious issue and the Indian government should step in to fix it.
“Now the Indian missions at countries of destination are not recording the grievances of migrant workers who are repatriated in a hurry, citing COVID-19. We should not let this happen. When workers give up their wages and fly back empty-handed, it is going to affect the development of our country too,” Subash told The Lede.
Wage theft, the practice of employers failing to pay workers the full wages to which they are legally entitled, is a widespread and deep-rooted problem that directly harms millions of Asian migrant workers each year.
Employers refusing to pay promised wages, paying less than legally mandated minimums, failing to pay for all hours worked, or not paying overtime premiums deprives working people of billions of dollars annually.
It also leaves hundreds of thousands of affected workers and their families in poverty.
Wage theft does not just harm the workers and families who directly suffer exploitation; it also weakens the bargaining power of workers more broadly by putting downward pressure on hourly wages in affected industries and occupations. Minimum wage violations, by definition, affect the lowest-wage workers - those who can least afford to lose earnings.
This form of wage theft causes many families to fall below the poverty line. Lost wages can hurt state and local economies, and it hurts other workers in affected industries by putting downward pressure on wages.
There are around 3.5 million migrant workers in the Arab Gulf countries.
And the majority are working under the Kafala system, a peculiar employer-employee contract which restricts many rights and freedom of migrant workers.