An Overview of Migration:
Figure: Trend in Out-Migration across South Asian Countries
Source: World Development Indicators 2013.
In South Asia, the history of out labour migration dates back as early as the 1970. While India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were the frontrunners, since the 1990 Nepal has also seen a drastic increase in labour migration. The sheer scale of the numbers of labour migrants (Figure above) has meant that for many countries remittances constitutes a substantial portion of their GDP, ranging from 3.4% in India to 22.2% in Nepal (as of 2011).Further, the poverty head count in South Asia decreased by approximately 25 percentage points concomitantly with an increase in mean per-capita remittance from less than US$ 20 to approximately US$100 between 1985 to 2010. While causality is difficult to determine, there is empirical evidence that supports the negative relationship between the two variables. However, despite the large contributions that migrants make to the countries (of origin as well as destination), they are often subjected to neglect harassment and violation of rights both in the sending and receiving countries.
The violation of the rights of labour migrants begins at home with brokers, agents and recruitment agencies in the sending countries. Recruitment agencies have been known to illegally charge exorbitant fees which take workers years to pay off; for instance the government mandated maximum fee for recruitment to work in the Gulf countries in Nepal is NPR 70,000 while the average amount a worker pays is NPR 103,000. This often comes coupled with deception regarding nature of job, amount in wages, job benefits, work hours, food and accommodation etc. In fact, 51.4% of migrants interviewed for a study in Nepal reported that they were not given contracts prior to departure. Cases of contract counterfeit and contracts being in a foreign language which the worker does not understand are also fairly common. Furthermore, some agencies are also know to withhold contracts until the day of departure so that the full terms of employment is not disclosed to the worker until the last moment when the worker has no choice in the matter. Better regulation of these pre-departure recruitment processes is needed.
In the last few years over 80% of out labour migration from South Asian countries has been to the GCC. The most popular destination country, UAE, accounted for 38% of the total labour out-migration to the GCC between 2007 to 2011. Saudi Arabia, a close second, accounted for approximately 33% of the total labour out-migration to the GCC during the same period.This is particularly disconcerting as the countries in the Middle East dont have a particularly encouraging history of labour rights protection. ILO has identified eight conventions as "fundamentalâ€ principles and rights at work of which UAE and Saudi Arabia have ratified only six, while Qatar has ratified only five. In fact, in all three of these migrant destinations do not accord migrant workers the right to establish trade unions.
Table: Trade Union Rights
Domestic Workers, Public employees, armed forces, and police
Banned in the hydrocarbon, health, education, pharmacy, baking, security, civil defense, airport, port and transport sectors.
Domestic Workers, Public employees, armed forces, and police
Allowed but only with a absolute majority support of workforce
Migrant cannot be members of the Administrative Body of trade unions (Ministerial Decision No. 570/2012)
Only "worker committees" are allowed but migrants cannot serve
Only Workersâ€™ Associations allowed
Source: ITUC, 2012.
This is a particularly grim situation in light of the fact that migrant workers are often subjected to violation and abuse in the destination country where their own governments lack extra territorial jurisdiction beyond the dictates of a bilateral agreement (in cases where there is one). There are many reported instances of workers abuse in destination countries; for instance, the Human Rights Watch report (2012) documents reports from migrant construction workers, in Qatar, plagued by problems ranging from unpaid wages, illegal salary deduction to crowded unsanitary labour camps and unsafe working conditions. The same report also states that the loans taken out to bear the cost of recruitment fees is a major reason behind why most workers continue to bear conditions of abuse. In the absence, of protection from their own government and lack of access to bargaining rights via trade union participation these workers are left defenseless and subject to the whims of their employers and recruitment agents.
Table: Statistics on domestic workers in GCC
Source: Thimothy and Sasikumar 2012.
These plights are even more pronounced in the sector of domestic work which due to the nature of the job subjects workers to additional vulnerabilities such as social and cultural isolation and extreme restrictions on freedom of movement and associations, among other things. Further, the situation is aggravated by the fact that labour law coverage in this sector is extremely rare and/or not enforced in the destination countries. Domestic workers are among the most exploited and abused workers as they are often forced to work 14-18 hours a day, 7 days a week at subpar wages. Further, as they also live in their workplace they are more prone to being victims of physical and sexual abuse. As evidence by the table above, the workers in this sector are predominantly female. More provisions need to be made in order to ensure the safety of workers in this sector.
The way forward in improving the situation for migrant workers needs to take a multi pronged approach. First off, the South Asian countries need to address the gaps in their domestic policies and practices pertaining to labour migration. This includes devoting more resources into the monitoring of recruitment processes. The agents and recruitment agencies should be reviewed periodically and penalized heavily for infringements to ascertain that there are no discrepancies in their practice. This is absolutely crucial, especially in light of the fact that repayment of outstanding loans taken to pay recruitment agencies is a key factor in trapping migrants in abusive employments.
South Asian countries need to enter into bilateral agreements with all of the major destination countries so as to gain more extraterritorial jurisdiction in order to be able to better protect its citizens. These agreements should stipulate the specifics of the standard terms and conditions of employment. Further, South Asian countries should lobby together to demand better terms of employment for their workers. They should also collectively urge the various destination countries to ratify and enforce internal conventions on migrant rights. In particular, South Asian countries need to rally for the rights to trade unions as they can act as an important liaison between the workers and the employees. Simultaneously, the governments also need to work on strengthening the reach and capacities of its embassies and missions in destination countries.
Further, orientation trainings and awareness campaigns geared towards aspiring migrants could be a good way of ensuring that migrant workers are better informed and prepared for their migration. In fact, in Nepal where pre-departure orientation training is mandated for all migrants by law, a study found that a lower percentage of migrants who had attended such training experienced any kind of challenge (i.e., lower payment, payment delay, violence/ abuse etc.) post migration in comparison to those who hadnt (Figure below).
Figure: Challenges Faced by Migrant Workers
Source: World Bank 2011.
Human Rights Watch. 2012. Building a Better World Cup: Protecting Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of FIFA 2022. New York: Human Rights Watch.
Harroff-Tavel, Helene and Alix Nasri. 2013. Tricked and Trapped Human Trafficking in the Middle East. Geneva: ILO.
Thimothy, Rakkee and S.K. Saskumar. 2012. Migration of Women Workers from South Asia to the Gulf. New Delhi: Girl Labour Institute and UN Women South Asia Su Regional Office.
World Bank. 2011. Large-Scale Migration and Remittance in Nepal: Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities. Washington D.C.: World Bank.
World Development Indicators 2014.
Authorâ€™s calculation using data from World Development Indicators 2014.
Adams and Page 2005; Acosta et al. in Fanzylber and Lopez 2008.
World Bank 2011.
World Bank 2011.
See http://www.ilo.org/global/standards/introduction-to-international-labour-standards/conventions-and-recommendations/lang--en/index.htm. These â€œfundamentalâ€ conventions are: Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98), Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105), Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100), Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111).
See Ratifications of Fundamental Conventions by Country, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:10011:612184023185844::::P10011_DISPLAY_BY:1
Harroff-Tavel and Nasri 2013.
Available at: http://www.ilo.org/migrant/areas/migrant-domestic-workers/lang--en/index.htm
Available at: http://www.hrw.org/topic/womens-rights/domestic-workers