India's move to scrap bank guarantee for women Domestic workers in Kuwait will harm their rights

Indian women domestic workers in Kuwait will lose crucial protection following the removal of $25,00 bank guarantee recruitment norm by the Indian government, migrant rights activists said.

“The bank guarantee was a sort of protection for the worker. We are sure that removal of the same will leave the domestic workers in peril,” Sister Josephine Valarmathi, a migrant rights activist from National Domestic Workers Movement in Chennai, told Firstpost.

“When the employer failed to pay the salary, the bank guarantee came to help. Now, we won’t have that,” Valarmathi added.

 Indias move to scrap bank guarantee for women Domestic workers in Kuwait will harm their rights

Representational image. Reuters

The bank guarantee norm implemented in 2014 as a welfare move, had to be provided by the foreign employer if he wanted to recruit Indian women as domestic help. It acted as a shield for women domestic workers if the employer failed to pay wages, or the domestic worker was subjected to abuse and required compensation and financial aid to return home.

The bank guarantee had to be submitted in original to the Embassy of India in the destination country.

Currently, such bank guarantee provisions are present in Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain.

In February, the Bahrain authorities had held talks with the Indian authorities to scrap the bank guarantee norm, however, so far a decision has not been taken.

Rafeek Ravuther, director of Kochi-based Centre for Indian Migrant Studies (CIMS), questioned the Indian government’s move and asked how the government will compensate if the worker is exploited.

“We are surprised to learn this. It is sure that removal of bank guarantee will worsen the situation,” Rafeek said. “I read that the Indian embassy in Kuwait is ‘welcoming’ the move stating that removal will open more job opportunities for Indian domestic workers. I also read that the annual job numbers will rise to 30,000. Why are they not understanding that job opportunities without protection is a risk?” Rafeek added.

Anyway, scores of Indian workers are working without amble employment protection as only those people who migrate through government's eMigrate scheme were entitled to bank guarantee protection. Rafeek said that many, who are lured by fake agents and migrate through unofficial channels, are prone to risks.

“Those who migrate through unofficial channels don’t get any kind of protection even if they are abused,” Rafeek added.

According to statistics available, there are 6 lakh maids working in Kuwait.

Even though Kuwait is the first country in the Gulf region to have a labour law for domestic workers, activists claim that the law fails many a time to protect the workers’ rights. Kuwait has also set $200 as minimum salary for migrant domestic workers but many don’t get the minimum wages in practice, activists claim.

Achama Varghese, a Keralite home nurse who returned empty handed in February 2017 from Kuwait, told Firstpost that removal of bank guarantee will worsen the situation.“I went through an unofficial agent. So, I had no such rights. I was abused and denied medical assistance. I had to flee. The sponsor didn’t pay me my salary properly. As I had gone through an agent, I had no bank guarantee net. I couldn’t claim my nine months pending salary,” Achama said. Achama migrated to Kuwait in 2015 January.

In the past, many countries have urged Gulf country employers to provide a bank guarantee for their citizens so that the migrant workers have a financial security net. However, the requests were objected by the Gulf governments.

When India had enforced bank guarantee in 2014, the Gulf country officials had even threatened to halt visas for Indian workers.

According to the Indian Embassy in Kuwait's data, there are 9.2 lakh Indians in Kuwait as of October 2016, out of which, there are approximately 2.7 lakh employed in domestic sector, whereas about 3.6 lakh have jobs in private sector.

Following an increase in exploitation cases, the Indian government had put in place certain measures to regulate emigration of Indian women workers holding Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) passports, for overseas employment in Gulf countries.

According to the welfare measures, 30 years has been made mandatory age in respect of all women emigrants (except nurses) emigrating on ECR passports to ECR countries irrespective of nature/category of employment.

Since August 2016, emigration clearance of all female workers having ECR passports, for overseas employment in 18 ECR countries has been made mandatory through six state-run recruiting agencies only.

Human Rights Watch has documented widespread abuses, including non-payment or delay of wages, long working hours with no rest days, physical and sexual assault, and lack of a clear channels for complaint redressal.

In April, a video of an Ethiopian domestic worker falling from what media reports say is the seventh floor of an apartment building in Kuwait went viral online. The woman lost her grip and fell down. According to media reports, the housemaid was hospitalized and the employer was arrested.

However, in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, the US State Department upgraded Kuwait from tier 3, the worst level, to tier 2 while keeping it on watch list, citing an improvement in its treatment of migrant workers, including maids.

Updated Date: Sep 08, 2017 17:59:03 IST