Low wages, delayed salary payments, isolation, combined with a lack of knowledge of the laws under which they can seek redress have, only too often, turned the dreams of Indian blue collar workers living abroad into a nightmare.

The Union Ministry of Overseas Affairs has now initiated as a pilot project, a free, walk-in resource centre providing Indian workers, especially semi-skilled and unskilled labourers, direct access to welfare services in the United Arab Emirates, located in Dubai. The Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) was inaugurated late on Tuesday by President Pratibha Patil, who is on a goodwill tour of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Syria.

Later, briefing journalists, Secretary (East) Latha Reddy said that while such visits provided an occasion to celebrate the success stories of Indians living abroad, it was important not to forget those less fortunate.

Secretary (Ministry of Overseas Affairs) Didar Singh said the IWRC experiment followed the setting up, four years ago in Delhi, of the Overseas Workers Resource Centre, especially for workers from Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Dr. Singh said the objective was to provide a “seamless service” for those who wished to go abroad to work from the moment they took the decision to do so. He added that while the UAE centre was the first, the government hoped to create such facilities in other countries with a large NRI population.

Of the 25 million overseas Indians, 10 million are NRIs, Indian passport-holders, and of these 5.5 million are in the Gulf. The United Arab Emirates accounts for 1.7 million, of which close to 70 per cent are blue collar workers, many working in appalling conditions.

Now, workers in distress can call a toll-free number, 800 46342 (800-India), from anywhere in the UAE to seek counselling, information or advice relating to legal issues such as contracts and financial matters.

The centre, located on Khalid bin Waleed Street, will be open from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day, with phone lines open 24 hours a day and available in seven languages, including English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu. In cases of disputes concerning contracts and other legal documents, workers will be referred to a qualified adviser. In addition, sessions will be arranged for labourers in need of psychological counselling.

Clearly, the need to set up such facilities was felt as Indian missions abroad did not have the resources or expertise to cater to the welfare of expatriate workers adequately. These services will be in addition to the existing services offered by Indian missions and social cultural organisations of India running in the UAE.

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