News: Recently, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) invited public inputs to the Emigration Bill 2021. The Bill presents a long overdue opportunity to reform the recruitment process for nationals seeking employment abroad.
- Labour migration is governed by the Emigration Act, 1983 which sets up a mechanism for hiring through government-certified recruiting agents – individuals or public or private agencies.
- It outlines obligations for agents to conduct due diligence of prospective employers, sets up a cap on service fees, and establishes a government review of worker travel and employment documents (known as emigration clearances).
- The Emigration Act, 1983 enacted in the specific context of large-scale emigration to the Gulf, falls short in addressing the wide geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic impact that emigration has today.
- For years, independent investigations into migrant worker conditions have underlined serious exploitative practices which include:
- Large recruitment charges,
- Contract substitution,
- Retention of passports,
- Non-payment or underpayment of wages,
- Poor living conditions,
- Discrimination and other forms of ill-treatment.
- For instance, in recent months, media reports have highlighted how the majority of migrant worker deaths in the Arab Gulf States/West Asia are attributed to heart attacks and respiratory failures, whose causes are unexplained and poorly understood.
- The Bill intends to replace the Emigration Act of 1983. The Bill envisages comprehensive emigration management, institutes regulatory mechanisms governing overseas employment of Indian nationals and establishes a framework for protection and promotion of welfare of emigrants.
- The bill proposes a three-tier institutional framework:
- It launches a new emigration policy division in (MEA) which will be referred to as the Central Emigration Management Authority.
- It proposes a Bureau of Emigration Policy and Planning, and a Bureau of Emigration Administration shall handle day-to-day operational matters and oversee the welfare of emigrants.
- It proposes nodal agencies under a Chief Emigration Officer to ensure the welfare and protection of the emigrants.
- It permits government authorities to punish workers by cancelling or suspending their passports and imposing fines up to Rs 50,000 for violating any of the Bill’s provisions.
- When enforced, it can be used as a tool to crackdown on workers who migrate through unregistered brokers or via irregular arrangements such as on tourist visas.
- The proposed legislation will also maintain registration of human resources agencies, validity and renewal and cancellation of a certificate.
- Besides, authorities will be empowered to have certain powers of the civil court.
- Lacks human rights framework: The 2021 Bill lacks a human rights framework aimed atsecuring the rights of migrants and their families. For example, in a country such as the Philippines, it explicitly recognises the contributions of Filipino workers and “the dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizens”.
- The Bill permits manpower agencies to charge workers’ service fees, and even allows agents to set their own limits. This provision goes against International Labour Organization (ILO) Private Employment Agencies Convention No. 181and the ILO general principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment.
- The ILO Convention and guidelines recognises that it is employers, not workers who should bear recruitment paymentsincluding the costs of their visas, air travel, medical exams, and service charges to recruiters.
- The Bill permits government authorities topunish workers by cancelling or suspending their passports and imposing fines up to ₹50,000 for violating any of the Bill’s provisions.
- Criminalising the choices migrant workers make is deplorable, runs contradictory to the purpose of protecting migrants and their families, and violates international human rights standards.
- Recruiters and public officialscould misuse the law to instil fear among workers and report or threaten to report them.
- This Bill does not also adequately reflect the gender dimensions of labour migration where women have limited agency in recruitment compared to their counterparts.
- Women are more likely to be employed in marginalised and informal sectors and/or isolated occupations in which labour, physical, psychological, and sexual abuseare common. The Bill also provides limited space for worker representation or civil society engagement in the policy and welfare bodies that it sets up.