In a move to contain increasing instances of exploitation, India is contemplating a ban on housemaids going to work in countries with which it does not have a labour welfare pact.
According to a new proposal from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), a ban would force the countries to come to the negotiation table for a welfare agreement.
"The ministry is considering a ban on the emigration of Indian women having emigration clearance required (ECR) passport to a country if it refuses to negotiate a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU)," said an official source in the ministry.
"The ban could be lifted if the country returns to the negotiating table," the official added.
India has already signed similar MoUs with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan and is negotiating agreements with Malaysia, Oman, Yemen and Bahrain.
It is believed that more than 200,000 Indian women are working as HSW (household service workers) in the Gulf region itself. The number of Indian housemaids has sharply increased in the last three-four years - from about 5,000 women, mostly from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, in 2004 to 15,000 in 2005.
According to the source, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi has already discussed the matter with a ministerial sub committee and with an inter-ministerial meeting convened specially to discuss the issue.
Officials pointed out that Saudi Arabia has not begun the negotiation process at the government level.
"The minister (Ravi) is of the view that women household workers cannot be protected in a country that is disinclined to sign the MoU for bilateral cooperation. He has already suggested a total ban on women workers to such countries," said the official on condition of anonymity.
The ministry has also suggested that a minimum wage be fixed and no woman be allowed to emigrate if the contractual wage was below the minimum wage.
"We have also proposed that every foreign employer directly recruiting an Indian woman emigrant must deposit a security of $2,500 in the form of bank guarantee at the respective Indian missions.
"The employment contract should be between the worker and employer, not with the agent. To avoid the malpractices of cancelling the insurance policies or refunding the one-time premium after the emigration formalities, we want insurance companies to give an undertaking that it should not cancel any policy except with prior written permission of protector general of emigrants (PGE)," the official added.
In order to check the increasing cases of exploitation at workplaces - household jobs fall under the informal sector and do not have the protection of labour laws in the respective countries - the ministry has already banned the emigration of HSW below 30 years of age.
"However, the reported cases are still in the rise. The very nature of their jobs makes the household workers prone to long hours, erratic work scheduled, verbal assault, physical and sexual abuses," the official pointed out.