"We will take necessary action to fix the corrupt system which is exploiting workers," a senior embassy official told The Lede
Indian women who were held back and denied return to Kerala by a Kuwaiti manpower agency as they did not have the freedom fee, will come home without paying a single penny.
On January 10, The Lede had reported that Al Durra, the Kuwaiti manpower agency which is in a tie-up with Kerala’s NORKA (Department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs), is demanding Rs 1.5 lakh as 'freedom fee' from Indian domestic workers those who are seeking return.
With 'freedom fee' receipts and accounts of victims, The Lede had exposed that Keralite women who had migrated to Kuwait through NORKA, a Kerala government arm set up to ensure safe migration, were subjected to modern day slavery. When they sought return they were told by Al Durra to place money on the table.
“My wife will return today or tomorrow without paying the 'freedom fee'. We have been told to transfer money for the return ticket. We will do that. So, by today or tomorrow, she will come home,” Suresh Kumar, husband of a trapped Keralite woman domestic worker, told The Lede.
Thanking The Lede, Suresh said that their grievance was addressed only because The Lede exposed the issue.
On January 09, while talking to The Lede from Kuwait over the phone, Suresh’s wife had said that she has been told by the Kuwaiti agency to pay Rs 1.5 lakh for her freedom.
She had gone to Kuwait in June 2019 through NORKA, which assures safe migration and decent working conditions from women domestic workers. But she was exploited by her employer and also by the Kuwaiti agency.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has entrusted NORKA ROOTS as a state-run agency to recruit nurses and domestic service workers for 18 ECR countries.
The aim of engaging NORKA ROOTS in the recruitment process was to make way for safe migration to overseas job aspirants.
In the NORKA website, it says that their efforts are “lauded as a major deterrent against illegal recruitment and visa cheating.” However, victims had told The Lede that they are exploited even if they go through NORKA.
A year ago, the Kuwaiti recruitment agency had entered into a deal with NORKA in recruiting domestic workers. Safe migration and decent working conditions were discussed then. However, now, the safe migration channel is not helping women, domestic workers, from being exploited.
On the decent working conditions front, data tabled in the lower house of Parliament in November 2019 had revealed that on average, 52 Indians working in the Arab Gulf are lodging labour complaints daily in the Indian embassies. “Most of the complaints received from the Indian workers are regarding non-payment of salaries and denial of legitimate labour rights and benefits,” V Muraleedharan, the Minister of State for External Affairs, told Parliament.
According to the minister, non-issuance, and renewal of residence permits, non-payment and grant of overtime allowance, denying weekly holidays and forcing the worker into longer working hours are a few of the key issues.“
Refusal to grant exit/re–entry permits for visit to India, refusal to allow the worker to return to India on final exit visa after completion of their contracts and non-provision of medical and insurance facilities, not being paid compensation upon death, etc are also reasons for complaints,” Muraleedharan had added.
Meanwhile, a senior official from the Indian embassy told The Lede that they have initiated actions to protect the rights of migrant workers.
“The Kuwaiti agency was referred to us by the Kuwaiti foreign ministry. And we had put them in touch with the NORKA expecting that migrants would be safe, and their rights would be respected. However, The Lede story exposes that things are happening the other way,” the embassy official said.
“We have drafted a detailed letter to the Kuwaiti agency. We will write to NORKA too. We will fix this corrupt system, and we will not allow this to happen. We don’t want a system to be in place which is exploiting workers,” the embassy official said.
“We will also ensure that women will return home without paying money,” the embassy official added.
Beena Omanakuttan, a Keralite woman, who had talked to The Lede on January 09 exposing the Kuwaiti agency and NORKA said that NORKA had called her after reading The Lede's report and heard her story.
“I have updated them on what is happening on the ground. And I am going to write to NORKA to get my money back. I have told them that there was no use in going through NORKA,” Beena said.
Beena had returned to India on 31 December 2019, after paying Rs 1.1 lakh to the Kuwaiti recruitment agency.
There are 30 million Indian migrant workers, with over nine million in the GCC region (Gulf Cooperation Council) alone.
Over 90% of Indian migrant workers who work in the Arab Gulf are semi-skilled and unskilled workers.