According to recent reports in the press, a contractor made an agreement to send 15 workers from Orissa to South Africa, promising Rs 15,000 per month to the unskilled labourers and Rs 16,000 to semi-skilled workers, such as masons and plumbers, among them. The workers were instead sent to Uganda and subject to very exploitative conditions of work. When they protested, they were ruthlessly assaulted by their employer and handed over to the police. This is the third such incident reported in the past four months involving Oriya workers in Southern Africa. There are hundreds of such cases from several parts of our country involving lakhs of workers, who go to West Asia, North Africa, Europe and other regions in search of livelihood.
Workers are duped with promises of jobs on foreign shores by unscrupulous agents. The families of the workers make extreme sacrifices, selling every meager asset including even their land, to pay the contractor. The outcome is very different – the workers are many times taken to a country other than what was promised, the kind of work they are put to and their living and working conditions are miserable. Many reports indicate that they earn less than the minimum wages in our own country, working in harsh conditions and a hostile and alien atmosphere with no rights.
The most appalling fact about such criminal incidents is that the Indian government washes its hands off. The government claims it can do nothing, its foreign mission in the particular country pleads helplessness. When the families of the victims in this case approached the Labour Commissioner in Puri, the response they got was callous. They were told that the department cannot do much in the case as it has no say over incidents in another country. Meanwhile, while 4 of the workers were deported, most of the workers are still stranded in Uganda. They have no recourse to any protection there, no recourse to any assistance from the Indian government. They and their families are suffering insecurity to their lives and to their livelihood.
The government must be condemned for criminal callousness in this matter. It is well aware of thousands of such criminal acts by contractors. It has not taken any decisive action to put a stop to this criminality nor in rehabilitating the victims.