Workers: Slaves Of
The Twenty-First Century
By Abdol Moghset
03 August, 2007
As soon as Murad Bux arrived,
his 13-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter were introduced to him.
He hugged them and wept. He was a servant of an Arab Shaikh in Qatar
and his master had allowed him to visit his family after 12 years for
a duration of two months. When he was asked how his life had gone in
Qatar. His reply was: “For me, each day has been as long as a
year. As if the time was hanged and the globe had stopped revolving
around the sun”.
This is the story of thousands
of Pakistani migrant workers in the Arab Sheikhdoms. Most of them are
illiterate with some exceptions. Although, holding a degree does not
count much, because, these migrants, whatever be their qualification,
are eager to undertake a job as inferior as that of dishwasher. Thanks
to Arab Shaiks, at least they have an indiscriminate attitude towards
the migrants as far as their academic qualification is concerned. For
them, all are migrants, who ought to be blessed to breath in the air
of Arab soil.
Beside the unwritten agreement
of “Representation without taxation never; and taxation without
representation never” it seems that there is another agreement
of this nature between the wealthy citizens of the Arab Shaikhdoms including
Saudi Arabia and their rulers: “No rights for migrant workers.”
They are clever enough in
accepting foreign workers instead of natives and know very well that
these migrants do not have any voice at all. They silently accept and
digest what comes to them from their masters. There is a simple package
of punishment for them if they protest: “Imprisonment for a limited
time and then their deportation to home countries” or better to
say “Throwing them again in to the well of poverty”.
The world has been striving
against slavery for more than one century. It has been successful in
elimination of the traditional form of slavery, but, in practice slavery
still does exist under changed skins and migrant workers in Arab countries
are good examples in this regard.
As matter of fact, slavery is not an easy phenomenon that can be disbanded
through legislation on the paper; it is a mind-set which rules over
the behavior. The Shaikh of 21st century behave with a migrant in a
way and with an attitude that his ancestor used to approach a black
slave a century back. The difference between the two is that, the old
slave was forcibly enslaved while the new slave takes risk, borrow money
and voluntarily go there to be enslaved. The former was enslaved because
of his weakness and the later gets himself enslaved because he is poor
The United Arab Emirates,
GCC countries (including Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman) and Saudi
Arabia have become important hubs of MNCs during last few decades. The
process of globalization and the corporate mode of economy has accelerated
the tendency of working over there; therefore, thousands of workers
ranging from India and Pakistan to Russia and Philippine as well as
other European and African countries are pouring into those countries.
They are underprivileged people that form one side have been disappointed
to find livelihoods in their own countries and on the other side, are
inspired by high value currencies of those states.
With growing number of migrant
workers and huge inflow of home remittances their importance in international
political economy is gradually being increased. It can be measured by
the World Bank’s recent report according to that, remittances
are the largest source of external finance for developing countries,
exceeding the amount they receive in foreign direct investment or foreign
aid every year. For instance, Pakistan received a record $5.49 billion
as workers’ remittances during the first 10 months of the current
fiscal year against 4.6 billion of Foreign Direct Invest (FDI).
Some countries such as India are looking the process as an opportunity
and are making efforts to exploit it positively for poverty reduction
and economic vulnerability. They encourage their citizens to work overseas
and send remittance. Moreover, they are developing institution as well
as laws to protect the rights of their migrant citizens in their respective
In 2006 the Indian government announced new welfare initiatives for
its migrant workers according to them a smart card would be issued to
all Indian emigrant workers for their identification. They would get
life insurance as well as medical insurance that could be used for emergency
treatment abroad. They will also get a cover to fight legal cases in
their working countries.
Further more, the Indian migrant workers are being provided with prerogatives
and special privileges. Recently the Indian government passed a law
which says that any government employee can go and work abroad while
his or her job would be reserved with full payment.
The Indian law makers, as far as the aforementioned law is concerned,
kept two factors in their mind. First, a person working overseas would
send remittance, which would help for maintaining balance of payment.
Second, a vacancy will be created and consequently would be filled with
some one else on the doll.
Although Pakistani migrants
have a long existence in the Gulf countries, they are among the most
vulnerable workers. Most of them work under harsh conditions in order
to make an earning to the extent of nourishing their children or more
optimistically to construct a four-wall for them. Worse than that, their
conditions are going from bad to worse due to oversupply of skilled,
better trained, and cheaper human resource. However, there are some
internal factors responsible for their misery:
· Pakistani workers
are employed in low profile jobs such as watchmen, gardener and cleaner
because of their little education and undeveloped skills.
· They are mostly working far away from the main cities. Perhaps
they come to the city only at the time of their departure-to and arrival-from
· Pakistani government and its representatives are very careless
and apathetic towards them. A huge budget is yearly being spent by Pakistani
foreign missions in the Gulf countries under the name of providing service
to fellow citizens while it is a breath-breaking job for Pakistani migrant
workers to cross their main gates.
· Pakistani workers are not being provided with any kind of legal
support, skill development trainings and other facilities, and there
is no initiative by the government of Pakistan to make them aware of
· There are many civil society organizations campaigning for
the protection of the rights of the workers in Pakistan. They are organizing
workshops and consultations with stakeholders, conducting research,
and directly or indirectly applying pressure upon the government for
welfare of the worker class, but the migrant part of the labour issue
in Pakistan is remained intact.
Finally it is to be noted
that some times there are some whisperings highlighted in the news indicating
that the government is about to set a mechanism to regulate the huge
inflow of remittances, but they rarely talk about the senders of these
remittances. There is no initiative neither in state nor civil society
level to protect these ill-fated workers against barbaric trends of
their unbridled employers.
Abdol Moghset Bani Kamal is a research associate, in
the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER)
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