Kerala draws its UAE migrants home

Indian workers are leaving the UAE and other Arabian Gulf states because they can now earn the same wages at home.

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DUBAI // Indian workers are leaving the UAE and other Arabian Gulf states because they can now earn the same wages at home.

A study of 1,200 households in the south Indian state of Kerala found that about a quarter of people who had returned home said "low wages, no visible increase in their economic status, ill health due to long working hours and better remuneration for the same jobs back home" were the main reasons.

"People are coming back because there is not much difference between wages in Kerala and the Gulf countries," said Rashid Gazzali, executive director of the research centre in Kerala that commissioned the study.

Labourers in the UAE and Kerala earned a similar monthly wage of up to Dh1,200 (18,900 rupees) but the costs of obtaining a visa, resettlement and living expenses made the UAE a "bad bargain" for both skilled and unskilled workers, Mr Gazzali said.

"If they remain home, the most important advantage is that they are not missing out on family," said Mr Gazzali.

The survey was conducted over six months between November 2012 and March this year. It found that 35.6 per cent of those questioned had returned from the UAE, although it remained the top destination for migrants from Kerala because of "liberal migrant rules" and "visa flexibility".

Mr Gazzali said that although the study focused on one state, the issue also affected the rest of India. "We believe the case may not be different in other states," he said.

According to the report, an estimated four million Indian workers are employed in the six Gulf states, about half of them from Kerala.

Few of those who returned had achieved their migration targets, such as saving enough money to be able to set up a business.

"It is found that around 52 per cent of the returned emigrants had liabilities. It denotes that there is a mismatch between actual earnings and expenditure incurred. Only 5.29 per cent of emigrants stated they have returned because they had fulfilled their migration objectives."

Saral K Das, a taxi driver in Dubai, is one of the few who have been able to save money, but he intends to leave in the next few years.

"I have bought a house back home with my earnings for the past 10 years," said Mr Das, who earns about Dh4,000 a month with commission. "But the opportunities are better back home. I plan to return in four years and start my own business in baby products."

Mr Gazzali said a review of salaries and retraining programmes by firms was crucial to encourage workers to remain in the UAE.

"Reviewing salaries and benefits and capacity building by companies in the UAE will help. If companies introduce language training, managerial and computer skills training, it will help improve their wages. Migrants also have a responsibility in improving their own skills, education and awareness."

Labour recruitment firms agree that wages for unskilled and semi skilled workers need to be revised.

"A few years back, an electrician from India used to come for Dh900," said Mohammed Jindran, managing director of Overseas Labour Supply, which has been hiring staff to work in the UAE for 34 years.

"Today, no one will come for less than Dh1,200. That too we can just about get for some people. In the unskilled category, people used to come for Dh600, but now we can barely manage to attract people at Dh900.

"The bottom line is that salaries are not compatible. Employers have to face the fact and increase salaries across the board."

He estimated his company had brought 30 per cent fewer labourers to the UAE from India since 2008. Because of this they were now mainly hiring staff from Pakistan.

Bosses at Dulsco said they reviewed salaries regularly and there had not been any "noticeable decrease in the number of Indian workers".

"At Dulsco, salaries are revised at set intervals, keeping in mind the cost and quality of living," said S Balakumar, director of HR solutions.

"We have implemented standard processes to ensure that salaries are revised to reward well-performing employees. The salaries offered at Dulsco are consistent with regional employment standards and the standard of living in the UAE. Wages and benefits are offered as per experience, performance and professionalism."