Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My days in the land of Oil

Sunny Kulathakal

During my travel across the length and breadth of the Gulf region both by air and road for nearly one and half years, I had personally come to know the variety of problems being encountered by our people mainly the Keralaites who struggle for a living in this alien land amid numerous adversities. What I recount here are not the stories of those who landed here in search of fortunes and managed to reach top positions.

Many of the early birds have managed to reach top positions. But I had occasions to hear many a pathetic story of those who arrived in later years and landed in troubles in the wake of new legislations. There are several Malayalees who are yet to gain a foothold in Gulf region with their fate hanging in mid air. Also there are many who are for years on job hunt in the scorching desert sands braving both the extreme heat and chilling cold. And who is there to heed their woes?

Many of these stories could not be openly shared with the relatives and close ones when they reach the homeland. There are many who come home on just two or three weeks leave after a gap of two or three years. They are compelled to opt for a kind of indiscernible mask over their face when they come home. During the few days at home they try their level best to make happy their parents and relatives who struggled hard to sent them to the heavenly land of Gulf with great expectations

Typical is the story of this youth hailing from Chenganasserry. (Not disclosing the name) He came home on a three weeks leave for his marriage. I happened to meet him when he came to a local press to print his marriage invitation. He was wearing an electronic wrist watch in the hand, a Rolex camera hanging on the shoulders, a costly filter cigarette between the fingers and he was wearing a turlin shirt and bell bottom trousers, apparently of foreign origin. He was washed in the fragrance of French perfume, foreign talcum powder, hair cream, and snow. His behaviour could impress anyone and his conversation was interesting. All made it quite plain that he has come home from Gulf. He introduced himself as a supervisor in a Dubai construction company. I made it a point to write down his address.

I reached Dubai in 1976 December. I wrote a letter to him in the address and waited. But he did not respond or turned up. One day I was just strolling down the Creek next to the Dubai Petroleum Company, where I was working. Then I saw a few young men engaged in the job of filling the gutters on the road with the soil from a heap in front of a famous hotel. I looked back when I heard two of them wearing trousers and shirt talking in Malayalam. It was getting dark and the faces were not clear.

There is a saying that “the leopard will eat even grass when pushed to the edge”. There are a lot of graduates and technically qualified among those who reach gulf. There are literates and illiterates as well. Once they fail to get an employment to their choice they will be ready to do any job. This pitiable state of affairs is prevalent in most of the Gulf countries. I felt that it was time to correct the misconceptions about the “Promised Land” when I heard the real life stories of doctors working as nurses, and engineering graduates employed as clerks and higher graduates labouring in the gardens of Arab households. The condition of some of the educated youth is more than pathetic.

It was getting late. Those who were working near the Creek have stopped work and were returning to their tent. I wanted to talk to them, but they were trying to evade me. Among them I found a familiar face. He was that guy hailing from Chenganassery. ‘Don’t you remember me?” I asked. Suddenly he blushed. Then he sincerely narrated the whole story. We can find a lot of such self-proclaimed “supervisors” and others categories here.

U.A.E today

United Arab Emirates was among the destinations which attracted Malayalees the most. Though there are seven states in U.A.E which was formed as a federation in 1971, major chunk of Malayalees are in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The Arabs who have come for trade in Mumbai and Kozhikode had a special corner for the Malayalees. However this special concern and respect is on the decline of late.

Growing anxieties

The recent legislations of U.A.E are not that much favourable to the Indians generally. It is anticipated that sooner or later similar laws would be enacted in other Gulf countries also. Those who are going to be the worst affected by this move which is aimed at making the laws uniform in the Gulf countries will no doubt be the Malayalees.

The crux of the labour law enacted in U.A.E in 1977 is that those who are not directly sponsored by the respective employer should not be appointed in any establishment. Moreover, immigration authorities are vested with the power to immediately deport any foreigner who is found to be working in any establishment without a valid visa. Both the employer and the employee who violate this are liable to be punished.

The ultimate result is that it will not be any more that much easy to get a job here. Earlier, one could manage to get an NOC either by falling at the feet of somebody or even by paying some money. The situation is different now. Equally difficult will be switching from one employer to another. One can enter a job only after “arresting” the appointment order detailing the wages and service conditions issued directly by the employer with the Indian embassy. Ever since these rules were made strict, getting a job in U.A.E has become all the more difficult.

What led to the enactment of these laws also needs to be noted. A large number of people from neighbouring Oman illegally crossed over to U.A.E in the wake of labour problems in that country. The stories of such people who have entered U.A.E duping the border security force are more pathetic than those who have reached here from Mumbai by illegal means. It is said that people from Oman were smuggled into U.A.E by stacking them in freezer trucks meant for carrying fish and vegetables. Once the truck crosses the border they will be let out of the freezer. Once it so happened that the freezer could not be opened since a police vehicle was following close behind. When the freezer was opened after the vehicle met with an accident en-route, what the police could find were a number of frozen dead bodies. Recently a number of workers were rendered jobless following the slowdown in construction industry. Needless to say, this also had its adverse impact on the labour.

Yet another vexed issue the U.A.E Government had to face was the problem of largescale fake NOCs a few years ago. It is said that some Malayalees were also involved in the racket. There were many who have earned millions through this fraud. Finally at least some of the culprits were nabbed by the police.

On the whole, the strict steps now being taken by the U.A.E Government are justifiable. They cannot remain insensitive to the situation wherein their populace is turning into a minority. The influx of job seekers into U.A.E was only below five lakh in 1975. This went up to as much as eight lakh the very next year.

Responding to persistent pleas from the business community issuance of visiting visas has been resumed of late subject to certain conditions.

There is the likelihood of massive shortage of job opportunities in U.A.E in the near future says, M John, former President of the Indian Association, Dubai. There are thousands of Indians working in construction firms. Once the ongoing projects of these companies are completed several workers will find themselves out of job.

There are many Indians who have reached eminent positions in various fields here. But many more are those who are still fighting burning issues. The efforts being made by the Indian Association to solve the problems of Indians especially Malayalees are commendable. John who had served as the Association’s President is the General Manager of a major firm employing about 700 workers. He continues to be a source of solace to many Indians reeling under a variety of problems.