Counselling centre for migrants

The Punjab labour and human resource department has set up the first-ever Migrant Resource Centre in the country, to plug the information gap migrant workers mostly face at home and abroad.

Established with the support of the ILO at the Industrial Relations Institute, Township, the centre will provide reliable and accurate information and support services to migrant workers, returnees and their families through drop-in and over the phone.

The centre has been opened with purposes – counselling of the workers wishing to work abroad. It will guide the unskilled workers to learn some skills before landing in the host country. Those already skilled will be urged to get certification for their respective skill to brighten their chances for earning a better living in the destination country.

It will also save them from exploitation by recruitment agents and/or foreign employers by providing them with all information regarding their jobs, job contracts, visa processing and available protections while in the host countries.

The centre will help educate the migrant workers through books, videos and orientation workshops about the commercial, cultural and legal environment of the host countries and make informed decisions about what they should see before accepting a job there and what assistance they have there in case of any trouble.

ILO and EU-funded South Asia labour migration governance (SALM) project manager Anna Engblom visited the Industrial Relations Institute on Friday and discussed with Punjab representatives Tahir Manzoor and Shahzad Bukhari modalities for further cooperation in the working of the centre.

Most of migrant workers from Pakistan belong to Punjab. As last year (2014), at least 752,466 Pakistanis got employment abroad and out of them 473,990 (almost 63 per cent) were from Punjab.

Data from the Bureau of Emigrants and Overseas Pakistanis shows that around 94pc of the total migrant workers from Pakistan are choosing Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) comprising Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

Mr Bukhari tells Dawn that recruiting agencies usually do not provide complete information about the jobs abroad to prospective migrant workers to sell the visas earlier and at the highest prices leading to exploitation of the workers both in the country of origin as well as of destination.

The centre, he says, will help the workers understand their job contract and guide them what skills they should acquire before their departure.

According to him, manuals are also being prepared for guidance of the workers in case they face trouble in the host country.

Mr Bukhari claims that a complaint system is being established at the centre against the wrongs done to migrant workers by recruiting agents and/or employers. Though the centre lacks any legal power to redress the complaints, it will refer these plaints to the relevant ministries and departments, including missions abroad and will be properly pursued.

Sadia Hameed, national project coordinator for SALM, says a similar centre is being planned for Islamabad. After their successful launch, the work will be replicated in other provinces too, she adds.

(Originally published in the Dawn, Pakistan.)

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