New Delhi: Masons, plumbers required in Qatar,” announces a notice on a door outside.
Inside, in a basement cluttered with ceramic toilet bowls and rusty pipes, Mohammad Arif is taking lessons to become one. With a pencil and notebook in hand, head bent low, the 24-year-old is struggling to grasp the English language as he slowly copies strings of terms such as “socket”, “sink mixture” and “jet spray” from the wallboard.
In a three-in-one classroom for masonry, plumbing and electric wiring, around 80 students sit in rows of crammed benches. Two men knock away to put a wooden frame around a column, three others slap wet cement on a brick platform. And, like most days at Globe Vocational Training Institute on this quiet lane inside a busy south Delhi market, the business of teaching has a clear purpose: to train young boys who flock to the city with ambitions to migrate to West Asia.
Despite jolts such as Dubai’s recent financial crisis and news of thousands of jobless men returning home, the lure of West Asia hasn’t faded for these boys, who include first- and second-generation job seekers, as well as forced returnees such as Arif who got laid off last year.
Skill-building: Migrant worker Mohammad Arif at the Globe Vocational Training Institute in New Delhi. The institute trains men who flock to the city with an aim to migrate abroad. Photograph: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
When the native of Rajasthan went back to Dubai after a holiday break in May, he found his job gone. After a 28-month stint as a gardener, his employer told him he was no longer required to water date palms across the desert city’s dozens of manicured parks, packing him off on the first flight home. Now he’s back in a classroom, to prepare to leave again. “I felt sad when I lost my job. There were so many of us who were sent back, men from my village, Bihar, Bengal,” says Arif, who recently arrived in the city on an overnight train from Bhadra village in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan. “But I want to go back, maybe to Saudi Arabia. I want to be a pipe fitter (meaning plumber). The pay is good.”
Also read first part of series | Workers continue flocking to West Asia
Thousands of families that depended on remittances from West Asia fell on hard times after Dubai’s labour market collapsed, triggered by financial troubles and a construction freeze.
Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
Around 3.5 million workers surged to the region since 2004. But last year, movement to the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is one, halved to 130,000, pulling down the total labour outflow from India by 30% for the year.
Arif, who has studied till class VII, says he has few options other than securing a job as a plumber overseas. “If I work in a factory here, I will have no savings. And, where are the jobs anyway?”
One of the government’s biggest challenges has been to create employment for India’s growing youth, which account for half of the country’s 1.2 billion people. Policymakers are banking on the assumption that accelerated economic growth will create new job opportunities for the millions entering the workforce. But right now, millions of poor and illiterate Indians continue to move out.
“In India, there is no justice, only corruption,” says Shadat Hussain, a teacher at Globe. Recounting his own experiences, he says his teacher father, who lives in a Uttar Pradesh (UP) village, could not afford to pay a capitation fee of Rs10 lakh when he was pursuing an engineering diploma course in Bangalore. Finally, he left for Jeddah to work in a precast moulding factory. He returned six years ago.
The return of migrants to the Gulf peninsula has led some to believe that “reverse migration” is already under way. Surprisingly, last year, when the worst of the economic crisis began to unfold, emigration to Saudi Arabia had actually increased from 228,406 to 281,110, according to ministry of overseas Indian affairs data.
“Workers come and go all the time. When you go looking for them to their homes, they’ve left already,” says Irudya Rajan, a labour migration expert in Kerala’s Centre for Development Studies, who also sits on a state panel set up to rehabilitate jobless returnees. This year, several recruiting companies expect placements to pick up again.
“Orders have started flooding in again,” says Raghib Hussain, an executive at Rans Overseas Associates, which recently opened an office in Qatar. Last year, the company, based in central Delhi held back 350 men from boarding flights at the last minute because many of its 50 Dubai clients cancelled orders.
Schooling for work: Student at the Globe Vocational Training Institute. Policymakers are banking on the assumption that economic growth will create job opportunities for those entering the workforce in India. Photograph: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
And judging by the stream of young men who turn up at Sarai Jullena, a former village turned thriving manpower ghetto in New Delhi’s plush Friends Colony, it becomes evident how desperate many are to travel in search of better incomes. Here, they wend their way through a warren of offices that call themselves “Good Fellow”, “Nice” and “Global Human Resources”. In Bharat Nagar nearby, at least 200 masons and carpenters nervously wait outside the narrow staircase of Gulf Training Centre. A trade testing centre, it evaluates proficiency levels and provides rating certificates in at least a dozen traits for between Rs300 and Rs500 apiece. Most of these certificates are demanded by hiring companies to ensure workers have the requisite skills.
Much of the manpower business in India is largely unregulated, but Tariq Usmani, whose family runs Gulf Technical Centre and Globe Vocational Training Institute next door, believes he’s filling a vacuum by offering training to the unemployed.
“About 90% of the 10,000 students who appear for the test get a job,” says Usmani, whose clients include construction firms Larsen and Toubro Ltd and Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd. ADCO Site Centre, another skill evaluator in Khizrabad locality close by, tests around 6,000 workers a year.
On a recent morning, Hassan Abdul Ghaffar arrives to interview fresh talent at Gulf Training Centre. The executive of Riyadh-based Al Hilaly For Metalworks says he needs 40 steel fabricators. “India has a good supply of technical men who can do hard labour,” says Ghaffar, who will be travelling to other Indian cities to recruit.
While Usmani says his operation does not involve manpower placement, his office is a meeting ground for firms to interact with candidates. One of the rows of glass cabins in the basement can be hired for a fee of Rs15,000 a day, which comes with complimentary mineral water and tea.
Many of the students have travelled from impoverished villages across north India. Some have come as far as Bihar’s Siwan and Gopalganj districts. They rent a room or live with relatives. Some have sold land and jewellery to raise loans to migrate. Many believe coming to Delhi helps as access to agents and hirers gives them an idea about job vacancies in West Asia. The number of aspirants who seek skill training in the city, according to I.U. Khan, proprietor of Khaleej Trade Centre in Khizrabad, is growing by 5% every year. Information about these institutes usually spreads through word of mouth.
Indian industry chambers have long been complaining about a skills shortage among Indian workers. But poor employment practices and bad regulation of labour laws that deny minimum wages and social security are likely to cost industry dear. Om Singh Yadav, who hails from the eastern fringe of UP, says that given a choice, he’d prefer to take an assignment overseas, where firms provide accommodation, free medical care and buses to travel to and from work.
Last December, the 24-year-old mason lost his job of three years in Dubai. His employer, Castle Construction Llc, handed him a termination notice. “In India, there is no guarantee you will get your full pay,” says Yadav, who has previously worked with Mumbai builders. “You have to pay yourself when sick. And to live, usually contractors give you any material they can find and ask us to build it on our own.” True, they used to live eight to a room in Dubai, but the rooms had everything from bedding to AC.
In Dubai, they got boots, helmets and goggles to work. “They thought about our safety, not like here,” says Yadav. And worse, he adds, carefully folding his termination letter like his most prized possession, no Indian firm ever bothers to send a formal note when a contract ends. “So you have to start all over from the beginning as there’s no way you can prove your work experience.”
“It’ s better that I go and earn some money to build a new house in my village,” he says.
This is the last of the two-part series on migration to West Asia.