Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

Emigration Bill 2021 does not go far enough

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Emigration Act 1983

Mains level : Paper 2- Emigration Bill 2021

Context

The Emigration Bill 2021 could be introduced in Parliament soon and presents a long-overdue opportunity to reform the recruitment process for nationals seeking employment abroad.

An overview of Emigration Act 1983

  • Labour migration is governed by the Emigration Act, 1983.
  • The Act sets up a mechanism for hiring through government-certified recruiting agents — individuals or public or private agencies.
  • It outlines obligations for agents to conduct due diligence of prospective employers,
  • Sets up a cap on service fees.
  • Establishes a government review of worker travel and employment documents (known as emigration clearances) to 18 countries mainly in West Asian states and South-East Asian countries.

What are the improvements in Emigration Bill 2021?

  • It launches a new emigration policy division.
  • It establishes help desks and welfare committees.
  • It requires manpower agencies to conduct pre-departure briefings for migrants.
  • It increases accountability of brokers and other intermediaries who are also involved in labour hiring.

Shortcoming in Emigration Bill 2021

  • Lacks human rights framework: The 2021 Bill lacks a human rights framework aimed at securing the rights of migrants and their families.
  • For example, in a country such as the Philippines, it explicitly recognises the contributions of Filipino workers and “the dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizens”.
  • Workers to bear recruitment payments and service charges: the Bill permits manpower agencies to charge workers’ service fees, and even allows agents to set their own limits.
  • This provision goes against International Labour Organization (ILO) Private Employment Agencies Convention No. 181 and the ILO general principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment.
  • The ILO Convention and guidelines recognises that it is employers, not workers who should bear recruitment payments including the costs of their visas, air travel, medical exams, and service charges to recruiters.
  • Criminalise worker: The Bill permits government authorities to punish workers by cancelling or suspending their passports and imposing fines up to ₹50,000 for violating any of the Bill’s provisions.
  • Criminalising the choices migrant workers make is deplorable, runs contradictory to the purpose of protecting migrants and their families, and violates international human rights standards.
  •  Recruiters and public officials could misuse the law to instil fear among workers and report or threaten to report them.
  • Gender dimension not adequadely addressed: This Bill does not also adequately reflect the gender dimensions of labour migration where women have limited agency in recruitment compared to their counterparts.
  • Women are more likely to be employed in marginalised and informal sectors and/or isolated occupations in which labour, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are common.
  • Limited space for representation: The Bill also provides limited space for worker representation or civil society engagement in the policy and welfare bodies that it sets up.

Way forward

  • The Ministry of External Affairs must start at the top, and draft a clearer purpose which explicitly recognises the contributions of Indian workers, the unique challenges they face, and uphold the dignity and human rights of migrants and their families.

Conclusion

The new Bill is better than the Emigration Act 1983, but more reforms are needed to protect Indian workers.

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