Labour export to Israel circumvents India’s safety protocol

While the conflict between Israel and Hamas rages on, claiming upwards of 25,000 Gazan lives to date, Indian workers have been permitted to take flights for work in Israel, bypassing the eMigrate system, the mandatory safety measures intended to protect and regulate labour migration.

OFFICIALLY, Yemen is not at war. However, since 2014, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has been bombing Yemeni cities to flush out Houthi rebels from Yemeni soil.

Since 2017, travel to Yemen has been totally banned for Indians. Similarly, Iraq is not at war with anyone. Islamic State terrorists have been ‘neutralised’ by the US-led coalition. Still, citing security concerns, here also, the travel of Indians is limited to certain provinces.

Shockingly, even when an official war between Israel and Hamas continues, claiming over 25,000 Gazan lives to date, Indian workers are permitted to fly to Israel for work, bypassing essential safeguards meant to protect them.

The Indian government’s own eMigrate system is kept out of the loop in this labour recruitment process, and the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) is calling for applications.

According to the Indian ministry of external affairs, no Indian shall migrate abroad unless they obtain emigration clearance from the Protector of Emigrants.

Additionally, Indian citizens planning to migrate to any of the 17 countries designated as ‘emigration clearance required’ due to unfavourable labour laws or security concerns must register through the eMigrate system, established by former Indian minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj between 2014 and 2015.

The 17 emigration clearance required countries are Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Yemen, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

While Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen fall into the category of countries with significant security concerns; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are primarily cited for having unfriendly labour laws.

In response to concerns about unsafe and unregulated labour migration, the Indian ministry of external affairs established the eMigrate system to promote safe, regular and orderly movement of workers in phases between 2014 and 2015.

This comprehensive platform connects the Protector of Emigrants, Indian embassies, employers, insurance agencies, passport offices, recruitment agencies, and the Bureau of Immigration, ensuring transparency and oversight throughout the process.

Since its launch, the system has upheld the motto “surakshit jaye, parishkshit jaaye” (go safe, go trained), prioritising both worker safety and preparedness.

Additionally, labourers who migrate through the eMigrate system are eligible for insurance schemes and their welfare is taken care of, even though there are a few shortcomings.

The workers who migrate through the eMigrate system have to subscribe to the Pravasi Bharatiya Bhima Yojana, a mandatory insurance scheme. The scheme provides an insurance cover of ₹10 lakh in case of accidental death or permanent disability at insurance premiums of ₹275 and ₹375 for a period of two and three years respectively for a migrant worker who has migrated to a foreign land.

The scheme is compulsory for various professions falling under work categories under Section 2(o) of the Emigration Act, 1983 irrespective of the passport category. Interestingly, the workers recruited to Israel fall under the category who have to subscribe to the Pravasi Bharatiya Bhima Yojana mandatorily.

Unfortunately, the current recruitment done by the National Skill Development Corporation to Israel is not through eMigrate.

The National Skill Development Corporation is a not-for-profit public limited company incorporated on July 31, 2008 under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956.

It was set up by the Ministry of Finance on a public–private partnership model. The Indian government, through the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, holds 49 percent of the share capital of the National Skill Development Corporation, while the private sector has the balance 51 percent of the share capital.

As per the National Skill Development Corporation ‘about us’ section, it aims to promote skill development by catalysing the creation of large, quality and for-profit vocational institutions. Interestingly, recruitment does not feature in its ‘about us’ section.

Despite not utilising eMigrate, the National Skill Development Corporation is inviting applications from 10,000 potential migrants for various job categories in Israel. Interestingly, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments have also jumped into the fray to recruit workers to Israel, bypassing eMigrate.

A closer look at documents reveals that India and Israel decided on labour migration in May 2023, during a period of peace. The Hamas attack in October did not impact the agreement and both countries have continued to move forward with it.

Another official document shows that the Indian Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship signed a three-year agreement with Israel in November 2023 to recruit workers for construction and caregiving sectors, starting in 2023 and continuing until 2026.

Interestingly, the document also reveals that recruitment procedures were streamlined in December 2023, even as Israel and Hamas were engaged in an armed conflict.

Interestingly, a note uploaded to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official website on December 19, reveals that he spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on “advancing the arrival of foreign workers from India to the State of Israel”.

Meanwhile, a source who knows the updates at the ministry of external affairs about the India-Israel labour migration told The Leaflet that the workers recruited to Israel will not get the Pravasi Bharatiya Bhima Yojana cover in addition to other benefits as they are not recruited through eMigrate.

In short, the workers recruited through the National Skill Development Corporation will not get any insurance coverage and other protections listed in the eMigrate system.

In November 2023, there were reports that Israel would remove Palestinians and replace them with Indians. In the same month, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that approximately 182,000 Gazans had lost jobs in the strip since the start of the Israel–Hamas war. Additionally, there are also reports that thousands of Thai workers have left Israel after the war started

While Palestinians are being ‘removed’ and other foreign workers are fleeing Israel, Indians are surprisingly flying into the warzone, without any apparent protection.

Both prime ministers, talking over the phone, are advancing the arrival of workers. India is entrusting a skill development corporation to carry out the process, and two states have jumped into the scene to grab the opportunity.

When all this is happening, circumventing the official migration channel set by late minister Swaraj, it is going to endanger the workers and set a wrong precedent. Because in a war zone, there are no safe zones where workers can work.