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October 8, 2001
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'Treat Gulf Indians at par with other NRIs'

P Jayaram in New Delhi

Labour Minister Sharad Yadav Monday took up the brief for Indian workers in the Gulf countries, saying they should be treated at par with the non-resident Indians who live in Western countries.

"Those Indians who go to the West largely pay lip service to their country whereas the millions of mostly illiterate and semi-skilled Indians who serve in the Gulf countries remain a part and parcel of our soil," Yadav said while opening a two-day conference here of welfare officers at Indian missions in Gulf countries.

Expressing similar sentiments, Minister of State for External Affairs Omar Abdullah, said the impression that the NRIs in the Gulf were not treated at par with those in the developed countries had to be firmly dispelled.

He said unlike the Indians working in the West, a vast majority of workers in the Gulf are not well educated. "Consequently they need support and protection from all the concerned authorities of the Central and state governments."

"It is our duty to ensure that they are not exploited and are extended full assistance in the entire process of their search for job, starting from the process of issuing of passport till their arrival in a Gulf country for taking up their assignment and later during their stay in a foreign land - alone, away from their families and toiling for the welfare of their kin back home," he said.

More than 3.5 million Indian nationals work and live in the Gulf countries and they remit more than $4 billion annually back home, which Yadav described as "one of the most important contributions" to the country's economy.

Welfare officers at the Indian embassies and consulates general in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Muscat and Kuwait, besides officials of the ministries of external affairs, labour and home and states having substantial worker population in the region and representatives of recruiting agencies are taking part in the conference.

Officials said the problems faced by Indian workers in the region included illegal substitution of employment agreement, non-payment of salaries and legal dues, lack of proper working conditions and alleged harassment of domestic workers including housemaids.

The conference will also discuss settlement of death compensation claims, transportation of bodies to India and local disposal of mortal remains, the problem of jailed Indians and setting up of a welfare fund and insurance cover for workers.

Yadav said the government was actively considering the establishment of a welfare fund for overseas Indian workers.

Abdullah, who returned from a three-day official visit to the Maldives Sunday, said with the Indian workers increasingly finding new destinations for employment, there was also a need to have laws to protect their interests.

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