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S IRUDAYA RAJAN
C S AKHIL

1. BACKGROUND
The mobility restriction and massive job losses during the covid19 pandemic forced the countries of
origin to bring back their citizens, especially temporary labour migrants from destination countries.
India, the home for 17 million cross-border temporary labour migrants, carried out the largest
repatriation exercise from May 7, 2020, to bring back the stranded migrants. Considering the persistent
requests from the Indian diaspora and workers stranded overseas, the Indian government executed the
repatriation of Indians using the national carrier and navy vessels. It brought back the migrants in 10
phases under a mission titled 'Vande Bharat Mission1.' The rapid increase in the number of Indians
affected in the Gulf countries, and the loss of jobs and poor access to health services in the labour
camps made the Indian workers increasingly vulnerable. Even though the Indian government addressed
the immediate requirement in repatriation, the government failed to understand and recognise their
post-arrival grievances.
Historically, India's response to the grievances of migrant workers is poor compared to other origin
countries, especially regarding the grievances on labour disputes. The number of unresolved cases in
the past years (2019 and 2020) is 6988. This figure consists of cases only from the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) countries except the United Arab Emirates (UAE)2. Amidst the establishment of grievance
mechanisms such as MADAD3 and helplines in Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayatakendra (PBSK)4, the
unresolved grievances remain high. The grievances raised by Indian workers include non-payment of
wages and end of service benefits, contract violations, labour right violations, harassment at the work
place and confiscation of documents.
The number of complaints from the Indian workers, especially on non-payment of wages and other
benefits5, had multiplied due to the economic crisis and panic precipitated by the spread of the
infectious disease among migrant communities. Among the workers who had lost their jobs, some were
terminated and repatriated forcefully, some were given false promises about the payment of wages
and dues, and only a handful of the workers received all benefits and dues before repatriation (MFA,

1https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/vande-bharat-becomes-one-of-top-civilian-evacuations/article34361996.ece
2Kuwait

- 3078, Saudi Arabia - 2618, Oman - 741, Qatar - 451, Bahrain - 100
https://www.mea.gov.in/lok-sabha.htm?dtl/33459/QUESTION_NO420_UNRESOLVED_LABOUR_CASES
3https://madad.gov.in/AppConsular/welcomeLink
4https://pbsk.cgidubai.gov.in/
5https://adnchronicles.org/2021/07/10/wage-theft-plagues-indias-migrant-workers/

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