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Indian workers need better insurance cover

By Vimala Vasan

Abu Dhabi: The urgent need for comprehensive insurance cover for blue-collar Indian workers has become evident in the wake of a major fire that engulfed a labour camp in Dubai's Jebel Ali Gardens area recently. Though no injuries were reported, the hapless workers lost their entire meagre belongings when one of the plywood cabins caught fire due to an electric short circuit and soon engulfed the entire camp area. Nearly 3,000 workers, a large number of them Indians, were housed in a couple of hundred plywood cabins in the camp. The workers have now been re-located to two huge tents and are unhappy with the poor living conditions and the failure of the contracting company to announce a compensation package or move them to a new camp with better facilities.

Discussions on

Mr. Yashwant Sinha, Indian Consul General, Dubai, told The Hindu that the possibility for chalking out some compensation and providing better accommodation to the workers were being discussed with the company officials concerned. ``The important aspect in such cases is to ensure that companies hiring a large number of workers adhere to safety norms at labour camps. Action has to be taken if regulations are violated," he said.

The Pravasi Yojana compulsory insurance scheme launched late last year for Indians seeking employment abroad covers certain risks like death and permanent disability but not aspects like loss of assets and belongings.

Moreover, many workers who left for work in the Gulf prior to the launch of this scheme may not be covered even for major risks.

Mr. Sinha said that comprehensive local insurance by firms was needed to cover aspects such as loss of personal belongings.

K. Kumar, convener of the Indian Community Welfare Committee and president of the Indian Association, said that the fire highlights once again the pressing need for Indian workers to be cautious in their pursuit of jobs, particularly with contracting companies.

"A compulsory insurance scheme covering all aspects, even if it involves a nominal contribution from the workers, could help them in times of distress," he said. Individual and group insurance schemes that cover contracting and other companies here now cover aspects such as accidental death, etc, but there is no cover for losses incurred in fires, he said.

Erring companies

Kumar said that many erring contracting companies were reluctant to pay compensation and take it for granted that the country missions and social organisations would come to the workers' rescue in the event of accidents, unpaid wages or other problems. The situation was an unhappy one for the workers, many of whom have lost their spare set of clothes and other amenities in the fire and even the cash saved to send home.

Majority of the Indian workers were from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The local media cited Dubai civil defence officials holding contracting firms responsible for major mishaps like fires in labour camps as basic safety rules are flouted when temporary housing facilities are set up for the period of the project.

Plight of workers

Meanwhile, another case related to the plight of workers has re-surfaced in Abu Dhabi. Over 1,000 Indian workers of a defunct contracting company Rafco are languishing for close to two years with no salaries to buy food or other necessities. The expatriate owner left the country with huge sums, leaving the firm bankrupt and workers high and dry with months of unpaid wages.

The Indian Embassy official in charge of labour affairs said that the company was not implementing court orders on payment of settlements.

Dues to the workers are in the range of Dh 20,000 to Dh 24,000 and they understandably do not want to leave the country until they obtain their funds, he said. Their work visas have expired and changing jobs is difficult at this stage.

The Indian Ambassador plans to present a brief on the case to the Under Secretary at the Labour Ministry soon to seek a solution to the problems being faced by the workers, he added.

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