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New Delhi, Jan 7: Unhealthy working conditions, poor pay, stringent labour laws, a completely different socio-economic milieu, language barrier, inadequate embassy staff, coupled with not enough support from the Indian government has left Indians in the Gulf a disgruntled lot.

At the ongoing 5th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in the Capital, Indian representatives from the Gulf were clear about one thing: The Government of India (GoI) clearly needed to do much more in order to improve the lot of the Indians in the Gulf who send home the largest remittances.

Indian workers in Saudi Arabia, living in "labour camp-like environments", often have to face hostile employers or sponsors, who hold up their passports. And that is only the tip of the iceberg, feels Balachandran Nair, General Convener, Non-Resident Keralites Welfare Association, Saudi Arabia.

"Low salaries of workers in unorganised sectors are a cause of concern as this leads to a lot of exploitation. The working conditions in Saudi Arabia, which is home to 1.5-million Indians, is pitiable and not being proficient in Arabic only adds to their woes," Nair, who has been championing the cause of Indian workers in Riyadh, said.

For most of the delegates who had come from the Gulf, there was a lot of unhappiness with the aviation scene, especially over the staggered/grounded take-off of Air Kerala. Yusuff Ali MA, from the UAE, said that although the VS Achutanandan-led state govt was keen on allowing Air Kerala to take-off, the Centre was not so willing.

"The Kerala govt has been willing to let the airline services take off. But the Centre has not been so encouraging in this regard," Ali, said.

C K Menon, a previous Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awardee winner from Qatar, concurred with Ali and said that Air Kerala takeoff would prove beneficial for the 4-million Keralites based out of the Gulf.

Nair however, was very upset with Air India for "neglecting the UAE sector". Although he was "thankful to the public carrier for carrying dead bodies free", Nair said that the Gulf is treated as the least important sector despite spinning high revenues for the carrier.

"Between Dec 2006 and Jan 2007 so far, there have been 22 cases of flight delays. Despite Riyadh, Amman and Jeddah being important points in the Gulf, there are fewer number of flights for these points," Nair said.

Most, however, agreed that a major problem for the Indian workers had to do with the fact that the Indian embassies in the Gulf are inadequately staffed. While urging the government to hike the staff strength, they also called for the rehabilitation and mobilization of workers who had to return to India.

Parliamentarian Jana Krishnamurthy, who was also present on the occasion, urged for the formation of small bodies which would take up the grievances of the workers and present their case to the embassy to pursue it further.

"Since the Gulf doesn't allow the formation of trade unions, small units could be formed in order to voice their issues," Krishnamurthy, who feels that the Immigration Act should be amended, said.


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