Dramatic rise in suicides by labourers from India

ABU DHABI — There has been a dramatic rise in suicides by Indian labourers since the beginning of 2006, according to a top Indian diplomat.

By Nada S. Mussallam

Published: Sat 19 Aug 2006, 9:07 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 6:14 PM

"Over the past seven months, 69 Indians, all of them labourers, committed suicide," said Chandra Mohan Bhandari, Ambassador of India to the UAE.

In an interview with Khaleej Times, Bhandari said the number of Indian workers who reportedly committed suicide last year stood at 100. "Our observation is that lot of these people who committed suicide were mentally upset because when they left India they started with certain expectations as they were told the working conditions are good and they will get good pay," said the ambassador.

However, once the labourers came to the UAE, they discovered they had been exploited by recruiting agents back home and their dreams would never come true with the difficult working conditions they had to face.

He said workers who took their own lives were frustrated by the very poor working conditions, including improper and unhealthy accommodation, as in some cases,12 labourers had to live in one room without an air-conditioner," said the ambassador.

He attributed labourers' frustration to the non-payment of salaries for months which is a malpractice carried on by some unscrupulous companies, while the unfortunate workers had to live up to many commitments and expectations they had back home.

"I think these are the major problems and that is why counselling is very important so labourers do not feel they are alone. We encourage workers and help them to be cheerful. We coordinate with the Labour Ministry and the Municipality in our efforts to support labourers.

''Some employers are also helpful as they care for productivity," said Bhandari.

Asked whether the government of India had taken steps to protect overseas labourers, the ambassador replied: "Efforts were on at a national level.

''The Government of India created a new ministry called the Ministry of Overseas Indians to exclusively deal with overseas Indians and look after their welfare. It focuses on the Gulf region where we have most of our labour force."

Responding to a question about coordinating with the UAE government to fix a minimum wage for the unskilled Indian labour force to ensure their security, Bhandari said: "We tried with the UAE Ministry of Labour to fix a minimum wage but that has not been done because I believe the general understanding in the Emirates is that the market decides a minimum wage.

''Even though the Ministry of Labour does give guidelines on a minimum wage, there is no legislation and cannot be challenged in court."

''On the Indian side, when we certify documents we insist that a minimum wage of Dh800 must be paid for workers who opt to work in the UAE prior to certifying contracts,'' added the ambassador.

On the number of Indian labour force in the country, Bhandari said there were about 1.3 million labourers in the UAE out of which 50 per cent are unskilled, 30 per cent are semi-skilled and 20 per cent are professionals and businessmen.

"The numbers are increasing because the UAE economy is growing and needs human resources. However, I expect a more skilled labour force as we are trying to upgrade unskilled labourers to a semi-skilled level through government-to-government coordination."

Refuting claims that Indian labourers did not trust the embassy to solve their problems, the ambassador said such claims were due to a feeling among labourers that the embassy was a high office that is out of their reach.

"Over the last 14 months since I have been here, I have been trying to break the barriers between the labourers and the embassy by visiting labour camps and mixing with workers to increase confidence in our embassy," he said, noting the embassy had intervened in many labour cases both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

"Now the positive thinking of 'Go to the embassy and they would intervene' is common among labourers and our work is speaking for itself," added Bhandari.

Elaborating on the free medical camp the embassy organises for needy labourers, the ambassador said the embassy was providing doctors who volunteered to provide poor labourers free medical check up at a venue at the embassy headquarters in Abu Dhabi.

He revealed that the embassy was trying to bring labourers, in cooperation with employers ,to a permanent labour camp in Musaffah where most of the labour camps are located to carry out medical check-ups.

This would save the workers the trouble of travelling a long way from Musaffah to the embassy to get themselves medically examined.

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