Saudi Arabia has set up a crisis management group to address difficulties being faced by thousands of laid-off Indian workers while a separate panel has been appointed to look into their claims relating to unpaid wages.
The “humanitarian issue” is being handled with “utmost care” and consideration by the Saudi Government which conveyed to India that it has speeded up the exit of workers who wish to return home, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
He said a little more time will be required to have full clarity on how many Indians want to come home and how many would like to remain in Saudi Arabia to pursue employment with other companies etc.
Swarup categorised the problems being faced by Indian workers into four segments such as wage claims, relocation, repatriation and conditions of the Indians living in various labour camps.
Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh had travelled to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and held extensive talks with Saudi Labour Minister Mufrej Al Haqbani who promised urgent action to resolve the problems of around 7,000 Indians.
“Earlier, in accordance to Saudi Arabian law, individual complaints used to go to labour courts. Now, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of labour has set up a committee to look into the claims of the workers.
“A Crisis Management Goroup has also been set up by the Ministry of Labour to settle all issues related to Indian workers,” Swarup said adding the Ministry of labour will now appoint a lawyer and we will know the exact procedure regarding this in the next 2-3 days.
On the issue of repatriation of the Indians, he said Saudi government has conveyed to India that they will make necessary arrangements for those who want to return to India.
The workers who want to leave Saudi Arabia can authorise the Indian consulate in Jeddah to follow up on their cases in labour courts and proceed on exit.
“Our Consulate has already given the list of workers willing to come back to India and those seeking transfer to Saudi authorities. As you can see, due to our excellent relationship with Saudi Arabia and efforts made at the highest level, things are in control and this humanitarian issue is being handled with utmost care and consideration,” said Swarup.
The Saudi government also agreed to allow transfer of Indian employees, who have lost their jobs, to any other company within Saudi Arabia.
As per Saudi Arabia’s kafala system, which is applicable to foreign workers, employees are not allowed to move to a new job without approval of their bosses.
The rules also restricts foreign workers to leave the country without NoC by the employers.
“The Saudi authorities have conveyed that they are willing to renew resident permits and labour cards to the Indian workers without any fines or fees.
“Workers who are willing to be transferred to other employers would be transferred without payment of fee or charge and without needing the consent of the current employer. Workers who wish to transfer their services can request the Ministry of Labour for grant of a 3 month temporary resident permit cum labour card,” said Swarup.
He said many companies, including some Indian construction firms are interested in taking the services of the retrenched workers. “Such a development will be a win-win for all.”
The MEA spokesperson further said, “We are giving attention to the issue off Indian workers in Saudi Arabia the highest consideration possible.”
On food crisis hitting workers staying in labour camps, Swarup said the Saudi authorities have taken responsibility of providing food to them.
He said Singh had pointed to Saudi authorities that care should be taken regarding the conditions in which the workers are living in, with special focus on their health and cleanliness.
“The Director General of the Ministry of Labour and social development met with our Consul General in Jeddah and assured him that Saudi Government has instructed concerned authorities to maintain cleanliness, provide electricity, water supply and medical facilities at the camps in which Indians are staying,” the MEA spokesperson said.
Asked about denial of diplomatic passport to a Kerala minister who wanted to visit Saudi Arabia to meet those languishing in labour camps, Swarup said there seemed to be a misunderstanding on the issue.
“The matter is not about the issue of a diplomatic passport; it is about the timing of the ministerial visit. At this time, the focus of our Mission and Consulate is on helping the Indian workers who are facing hardships and also on helping the Indian pilgrims who have arrived in the holy
city of Mecca for the sacred Haj pilgrimage.
“Surely, it cannot be anybody’s case that the Mission should not pay attention to the requirements of the Indian
citizens, including those in distress,” he said.