Indian missions abroad will get to play a statutory role in the protection and welfare of overseas Indian workers once amendments to the Emigration Act 1983 come into effect, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi said in New Delhi on Monday.
"The amendments to the Emigration Act have been finalised" in consultation with the missions and "are expected to be in place shortly", Ravi said while inaugurating the second annual meeting of the heads of Indian missions in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Malaysia, Jordan, Yemen and Libya.
"Two important changes are relevant. One will give our missions a statutory role in the protection and welfare of workers and another will provide for stringent action against those indulging in human trafficking," he said.
The two-day meet, being organised by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), will discuss several policy measures for safeguarding interests of Indian workers abroad.
The minister also stressed on a policy framework for safeguarding interests of overseas Indian workers.
"It is... imperative that we develop a policy framework and an institutional arrangement that will best serve the overseas Indian workers over the medium to long term," Ravi said.
"Such a policy framework must include certain non-negotiable terms of the work contract, an effective outreach programme for grievance redressal and a strong legislative framework to deal with intermediaries for the exploitation of the workers."
The minister said that the emigration process was being revamped "to make it simple, efficient and transparent and to eliminate intermediaries".
He also said that a host of measures had been finalised for the protection of women emigrants.
"Women emigrant workers, particularly those in the household service sector, should be at the centre of all our policy initiatives. They are the most vulnerable. They suffer gender bias, economic bias and do not have the protection of labour laws."
He added that the government would overhaul the recruiting system to hold recruiting agencies accountable for irregularities.
Ravi called upon the envoys attending the meet to take the initiative in signing bilateral labour welfare pacts between India and the different countries, on the lines of the ones signed with UAE and Kuwait.
"We have initiated a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Malaysia and an additional protocol with Qatar. We hope to conclude these at the earliest," he said, adding that India has proposed negotiations for similar MoUs with Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.
Stating that 46 per cent of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia were in the informal sector and not covered by labour laws, Ravi said: "We need to take up the issue of signing an MoU with Saudi Arabia through a strong diplomatic effort."
There are around five million Indians in the six GCC countries of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. Many of them are working as contract labourers in the booming construction industry there.
In Malaysia, people of Indian origin constitute around eight per cent of the country's population of around 24 million. Many of them had migrated from India to work in the rubber plantations in the Southeast Asian nation.
Jordan, Yemen and Libya too have large numbers of Indian workers.
Ravi said the government was working closely with the International Organisation for Migration to establish an Overseas Indian Resource Centre in the UAE.
"We must explore this option in other countries, which have a large Indian workforce," he said.
These centres, he said, would provide a wide range of services including information dissemination, legal assistance, temporary shelters and healthcare.
He also said that the government would soon establish a Council for Promotion of Overseas Employment to serve as a think tank and to devise strategies to help emigrant workers benefit from the labour supply gaps in the overseas employment market.