Under Kafala, workers are dispensable


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

Mains level: Migrants' Rights in GCC countries

Why in the news?

Shortly after a fatal fire claimed the lives of 49 migrant workers, predominantly Indians, in the Mangaf area of Al Ahmadi municipality, Kuwait

About the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

  • It is a regional intergovernmental organization that aims to promote economic, political, and cultural cooperation among its member states.
  • The GCC was established in 1981 and currently consists of six Arab countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The council’s main headquarters is located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

What is the Kafala system?

  • The Kafala system is a sponsorship system used in several Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. It governs the legal status of migrant workers, particularly those from other countries in Asia and Africa, who come to work in these countries. It binds migrant workers to a specific employer, known as the “kafeel,” who is responsible for the worker’s visa and legal status.
  • Note:  sponsorship by local sponsor or employer in West Asian countries

Migrants’ Rights in GCC countries:

  • Vulnerabilities of Migrant Workers: Migrant workers in GCC countries face systemic vulnerabilities due to the Kafala system, tying their legal status to employers who control their accommodation, wages, and freedom of movement. Lack of independent legal status and dependency on employers make them susceptible to exploitation, poor living conditions, and arbitrary deportations.
  • Living Conditions and Safety: Many migrants live in crowded and substandard accommodations, which exacerbate risks during emergencies such as fires, as seen in the Mangaf tragedy. Safety standards in workplaces and living spaces often fall short, posing significant risks to migrants’ health and well-being.
  • Legal Protections and Access to Justice: Legal protections for migrant workers vary, with some categories like domestic workers often excluded from labor laws and protections. Limited access to justice and the ability to organize or unionize further restrict their ability to advocate for improved rights and conditions.

India’s Relationship with GCC Countries:

  • Economic Dependence and Migrant Workforce: India has a significant economic relationship with GCC countries, with millions of Indian migrants working across sectors such as construction, healthcare, and services. Remittances from GCC countries contribute significantly to India’s economy, highlighting the mutual economic interdependence.
  • Diplomatic and Policy Engagements: India engages diplomatically with GCC countries to safeguard the interests and welfare of its migrant workers, advocating for better working conditions, legal protections, and safety measures. Bilateral agreements and negotiations focus on labour rights, remittance flows, and crisis management during emergencies affecting Indian migrants.

What India can do? (Way forward)

  • Diplomatic Engagement and Advocacy: Strengthen diplomatic ties with GCC countries to advocate for better working conditions, legal protections, and safety measures for Indian migrants.
  • Consular Services and Support: Enhance consular services and support networks in GCC countries to provide timely assistance, legal aid, and emergency relief to Indian migrant workers.
  • Skill Development and Empowerment: Collaborate with GCC governments and employers to ensure skill development programs for Indian migrants, enhancing their employability and negotiating power.

Mains PYQ:

Q Indian Diaspora has an important role to play in South-East Asian countries’ economy and society. Appraise the role of the Indian Diaspora in South-East Asia in this context. (UPSC IAS/2017)

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