Lure of lucre in distant lands
Gabon is the latest in the long list of countries where dreams of workers from India in general and Andhra Pradesh in particular, have turned into...
Gabon is the latest in the long list of countries where dreams of workers from India in general and Andhra Pradesh in particular, have turned into nightmares
Gabon. The oil-rich central African state with a population of 1.5 million and with one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa --$14,000 � and planning massive development is a potential land for investors and migrant workers to make money. Like any other country in the Middle East and Africa, Gabon wants to develop before its oil and gas wells dry up and has drawn up a three-pronged strategy to boost industry and infrastructure, develop banking and telecom services and give fillip to green economy by reducing dependence on black gold. For modern development, countries need money first and manpower next to implement growth plans. Gabon has oil wealth and it is still generating but lacks both skilled and unskilled manpower. This is one area in which countries like India excel. We have reservoirs of manpower, ready and eager to go anywhere and work. In fact, India is the only country in the world that can meet standards and requirements of any country looking for workforce � from lowly labourers to top administrators and advisors. That's the reason why millions of Indians are found toiling in different capacities in oil-rich Sheikhdoms and elsewhere. Though a majority of them are semi-skilled workers, service and administrative sectors, including health and education, are the forte of the white and blue collared who are generally well looked after and cared for than little educated labourers whose ignorance and poverty are exploited at every level. When nearly 200 construction workers, 95 of them from Andhra Pradesh, left for Gabon in the last three-four months, little did they know to which part of the world they were heading. Nor have they had the knowledge of the African country, its topography, climatic conditions, the kind of food available, local traditions and culture, languages spoken, etc. Generally drawn from rural areas, their world would not go beyond their districts and any geographical area beyond the state was incomprehensible. When such people board an aircraft, the only thing on their minds is they are going to a far off land and return with bagsful of money. At least that is what the recruiting agents tell them before getting their signatures/ thumb impressions on the documents. They are lucky if the agents don't squeeze the workers to the bone for various 'services' rendered by them before seeing them off at the airport. But, in a majority of cases, job agents paint a rosy picture of life abroad, converting the migrants workers' meager salaries into rupees and how much money they could send back to their families every month and how easily they could clear the loans taken for securing an overseas job. Promises are made at the time of recruitment but the agents are not responsible for fulfilling them because they are mere middlemen to supply the requisite manpower to their principals abroad against an agreed amount, in business parlance, commission. The company, Indian or foreign-based, that hires the workers is responsible for their welfare once they land in the country of work and it follows laws of the land in treating and dealing with imported employees. If the laws are lax � that was the case until recently in the Gulf States where millions of Indians work � the migrant workers are exploited to the hilt and treated like slaves. Sadly, workers facing such situations have no recourse to any kind of legal means except approaching the Indian mission and complaining. Since they don't know anything about the host country and will be living in labour camps far away from the capital city, they will be in hell as the Telugu workers in Gabon have complained. Even Indian missions abroad can't act unless they get accurate and specific information about the plight of workers whose living quarters are difficult to access. The unskilled workers will be transported to the working site in the morning and back in the evening. Besides the harsh weather and tough working conditions they have to endure, workers have to put up with home sickness, various illnesses for which little medical aid is available and the fear of death in a strange and unfriendly land. Their worries will be compounded if they are not paid their wages regularly and if they are unable to communicate with their families in India. That's the universal profile of migrant workers, whether they are in the Gulf or Gabon. Gabon is the latest in the long list of countries where dreams of workers from India in general and Andhra Pradesh in particular, have turned into nightmares. Nearly a year ago, 250 labourers from Srikakulam district from the State were reported to have been languishing in Angola jails and the State government had sought the Central government help in repatriating them. Such reports keep appearing in the press and despite governments' efforts at provincial and central level by setting up special cells to monitor recruitment of labour and protection of their rights at work places as per employment agreements migrant workers continue to face hardships. The main reason is lack of knowledge on the part of intended emigrants about the place of work and the country's laws and if they violate them what kind of punishment they have to face. Apparently, in some places, the workers would get a sort of briefing before they leave this country. But such open forums should be held before the workers sign on the dotted lines so that they will have a fair knowledge of do's and don'ts in a host country. More important is registering the details of workers leaving the country at the port of embarkation and the data should be sent to the state government for reference. The workers should also be mandated to register with the Indian missions abroad once they land there and if it is not possible, Indian associations should be roped in to help the Indian missions to get the workers' details computerized and stored in a data base. Even if all these measures are in place, there is no guarantee that workers won't be stranded because many of them want to stay indefinitely even if their job contracts are over in the mistaken belief that law won't catch up with them. Little do they realize that once the work permit period expires, they automatically become illegal residents and risk landing in jails and after completion of their prison terms they face deportation. That's what happened last month when hundreds of migrants from the State were deported by the UAE.