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Privations aplenty for migrant workers: study

By S. Annamalai

MADURAI, MAY 16. The desert is no longer enchanting. The lure of the riyal is not overwhelming. Employment in Oman, in the Gulf, is turning into an ordeal for migrant workers who feel doubly cheated — at home and abroad. These are the findings of a recent study by the Dindigul-based Peace Trust.

The study, undertaken by a team led by its chairman, J. Paul Baskar, in Oman, has revealed that the profile of the migrant worker has changed. His flashy outward look betrays his inner turbulence.

On the one hand, the annual income of the migrant Indian workers in the Gulf countries stands at $ 300 billion and on the other, their inner-self is full of "distress, desolation and despair."

As per the data available with the Indian Embassy in Oman, there are three lakh migrant workers, of whom nearly 50,000 are from Pakistan, the Philippines and China.

The rest are Indians, with workers from Kerala and Tamil Nadu topping the list in that order. In recent years, there has been an increase in the influx of workers from Andhra Pradesh.

Among the 2.5 lakh migrants from India, there are about 50,000 skilled workers, professionals and businessmen who do not have any problem staying in Oman.

The unskilled workers, according to the study, are hired on contract. Many of them have legal documents and worker identity cards. They visit India once in two years.

There is another group, which comes through bogus agents in India, after paying around Rs. 1 lakh for the passage and documents.

The bogus agents, who recruit migrant workers for the Gulf are increasing in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, cautions the study. Some migrants, who reach Oman with bogus documents supplied by the agents at home, are sent back on arrival. Others go into hiding and search for menial jobs.

Even for those who come with valid documents, the jobs do not match their qualifications. Not to speak of salaries. Many migrants from south Tamil Nadu, especially Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga, Madurai, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts, are employed for sweeping roads and cleaning toilets, says the survey. Some of these workers have postgraduate degrees. They stay in dormitory-type camps, where there is no air-conditioning.

They clean the roads and toilets and earn riyals 55 a month (Rs. 6,000), against Rs. 15,000 promised by the recruiting agent. Many of them do not enjoy the benefits which normally come with employment in the Gulf — an all-expenses paid trip back home. They are able to save Rs. 2,000 a month, after spending riyal 120 (Rs. 14,000) for the annual renewal of the worker identity card.

In addition to monetary loss, the migrant workers suffer mental and physical agony.

Most of the migrant workers from Tamil Nadu seek employment in the construction industry for a meagre payment.

The heat, according to the workers, is unbearable, resulting in sunstroke, and they are also teased on the streets by the natives.

The plight of women, employed in garment units, is worse. They are not allowed to go anywhere, except their accommodation and workplace.

They can go shopping for half a day once in three months, with security.

According to the Tamils Association in Oman, the root cause of the problem of migrant workers is the proliferation of bogus agents in Tamil Nadu.

Until the menace is curbed at source, the problems of migrant workers are bound to multiply, the study concludes.

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