Q Why is it in News ?
A 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.
Q What are the key features of the Bill ?
- 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.
Q What is the need for the Bill ?
- 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.
Q What are the associated Issues ?
- Lacks a Human Rights Framework: The bill is criticised to be lacking a human rights framework aimed at securing the rights of migrants and their families. For example:
- The penal provisions under the law, criminalizes the choices migrant workers make either because they are unaware of the law, under the influence of their recruiters, or simply desperate to find a decent job.
- Further, migrants in an irregular situation who fear that they could be fined or have their passports revoked, are also less likely to make complaints or pursue remedies for abuses faced.
- Not in Sync With International Standards: The Bill permits manpower agencies to charge workers’ service fees, and even allows agents to set their own limits.
- However, International labour standards and the International Labour organization (ILO) general principles recognise that it is employers, not workers who should bear recruitment payments.
- Worker-paid recruitment fees eat into their savings, force them to take high-interest loans, leave workers in situations of debt bondage a form of forced labour.
- Scant Gender Dimensions: This Bill does not also adequately reflect the gender dimensions of labour migration.
- Women have limited agency in recruitment compared to their counterparts and are more likely to be employed in marginalised and informal sectors and/or isolated occupations in which labour, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are common.
Q What can be Way Forward ?
- India needs to formulate migration centric policies, strategies, and institutional mechanisms in order to ensure inclusive growth and development and reduce distress induced migration.
- This will increase India’s prospects for poverty reduction and achieving Sustainable Development Goals.