ABU DHABI // The Indian minister for overseas resident affairs said yesterday he emphathised with expatriates concerned about changes in tax laws, a shortage of space in schools and labour welfare.
Vayalar Ravi made the comments during an informal meeting at the India Social and Cultural Centre with members of the UAE’s Indian community yesterday afternoon.
He asked non-resident Indians (NRIs), especially those living in the Gulf, to unite and voice their concerns regarding the reduction in the time they can spend in India – down from six months to 59 days – before they lose tax-exempt status. They also potentially face a tax increase at a flat rate, which experts say would hurt low-wage workers the most.
“I share your concern,” Mr Ravi said. “The implications are a little wider for you, those who live in the Gulf.”
He asked those gathered to contact the Indian parliamentary committee that is turning the bill into a law, that, if passed by the parliament, would come into effect in 2012.
Jonia Mathew, the president of the Indian Ladies Association, asked the minister to arm the embassy with more services, meaning less need to travel back and forth to India.
“For everything we have to go to India,” Mrs Mathew said. “I travelled three times in the last month. We have to go for our children, our ageing parents, to look after our properties. For the attestation of a single property document, we have to travel to India.”
Yesterday morning, Mr Ravi formally met with the UAE Minister of Labour, Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash, and discussed amendments to a memorandum of understanding between the two countries revising labour laws to better protect workers.
Last week, Mr Ghobash held a two-day conference with members of labour-sending countries, including India, to discuss changes to the law and recruiting techniques.
An estimated 1.75 million Indians live in the Emirates, most of whom work as semi-skilled and unskilled workers in the construction industry.
Mr Ravi said while he was unable to discuss the proposed changes in the labour laws, he was encouraged by Mr Ghobash’s actions.
“I am very positive about the approach the labour minister has taken,” Mr Ravi said. “We both want all the workers to come through legally and properly.”
During the labour conference in Dubai last week, the UAE Government also urged countries that export labour to the Emirates to strengthen their labour emigration laws.
Mr Ravi said the Indian emigrant act, introduced in 1983, is on the verge of being “overhauled”. The replacement, the proposed Emigrant Management Bill, would cover workers, recruitment agencies and employers, making those who are in the business of exporting and importing labour more liable for the labourers.
Additionally, Mr Ravi said, the Indian government is putting measures in place to help workers, including opening the Indian Workers Resource Centre in Dubai and the Community Welfare Fund to help those in distress. Worth Dh1.23 million, the fund’s UAE branch, of which the Indian ambassador is in charge, is created by money collected for consular services.
The fund was used to pay for legal services and lawyer fees for 17 Indians accused of killing one man and injuring another in Sharjah in a bootlegging brawl, Mr Ravi said.
The school shortages, however, were outside his control, Mr Ravi said. He asked businesses to come forward and invest in building more schools.
Last week, in a cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr Ravi was also assigned the civil aviation ministry.
Air India, the country’s national airline, has been plagued with delays, technical problems and staff shortages.
Mr Ravi acknowledged the problems and said he was confident that he could turn the airline around with the help of “all stakeholders, including customers and passengers”.