Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi: Thousands of Indians, especially Malayalis employed in Saudi Arabia, may be impacted by a new work policy of the kingdom that seeks to reserve a certain percentage of jobs for locals.

According to the new Nitaqat policy - or Saudisation programme - of the kingdom, 10 percent of jobs are to be reserved for locals. The policy is aimed at expanding employment opportunities for Saudi nationals.

There are over two million Indians working in Saudi Arabia, including 576,000 from Kerala alone.

‘No need to panic’

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said Monday evening there was no need to panic and the Indian government would provide assistance to Indians forced to return from Saudi Arabia.

"If somebody has to go to another country, he has to satisfy the rules of that country. But if there is inconvenience caused to any Indian citizens, then whatever assistance we can give, we will provide," Khurshid assured.

"The Kerala government is setting up help desks at the three international airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Calicut and Kochi and 24-hour call centres to help people in distress," an official of the department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) said.

"Around 576,000 people from Kerala are working in Saudi Arabia. We are requesting for general amnesty and request a review of the ban on re-entry of workers," the official added, declining to be named.

C.P. John, member of the Kerala State Planning Board, said that thousands of Indian workers, especially Malayalis, would be affected "if the Saudi government makes the Nitaqat policy very strict". "A few hundred Keralites have returned to India following implementation of the policy," John said. However, he said that "there was no clear idea of how many Malayalis would to be affected. There is no real picture, we are continuously waiting for real numbers with work permits". "Some will have to come back, some will be expelled from their workplaces. We hope they can carry on and get absorbed in other companies in the kingdom," he added. "Saudis are not accustomed to working like Indians. It is very expensive to employ a Saudi. But the managers will be forced to employ one Saudi, who will work for eight hours and his pay will be 10 percent higher than an Indian's. The Saudis would be forced to rely on cheaper and more efficient Indians, who work for up to 15 hours," John said.

Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed discussed the issue with Saudi Arabia's Assistant Foreign Minister Prince Abdul Azees Bin Abdullah Al Saud in Tajikistan Saturday.

According to reports, street cleaning and other sanitation works have been hit hard by the Saudisation programme as almost 100 per cent of the workers in this sector are foreigners, mostly Indians. Many of them are illegal immigrants. Labour inspectors and police have begun conducting raids on enterprises suspected of employing illegal workers. Employers complying with the Nitaqat norms would be rewarded with incentives while those failing would have to shut shop as the work permits of their expatriate workers would not be renewed, according to Saudi reports. The work permit is mandatory for getting the residential permit.

Govt rushing two senior ministers to Saudi

The Indian government proposes to send two senior ministers to Saudi Arabia to assess the impact of the new 'nitaqat' employment policy.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi and Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahmed would soon head to Saudi Arabia, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told a group of Urdu media journalists here on Tuesday evening. The visit is timed with the return of Saudi Labour Minister Adel Fakieh, who is currently out of country.

The external affairs ministry is also in touch with the Saudi ambassador on this issue. Khurshid said that Indian diplomats in Saudi Arabia have rushed to Damam province, where Saudi labour ministry officials have conducted raids to detect illegal workers. The Indian embassy in Riyadh has been directed to post additional staff in Damam to assist Indian workers who are being scrutinized by the local authorities.

The minister said there is no exodus of Indian workers from the Kingdom, adding that all possible help will be rendred to the Indians. He said the embassy would issue emergency exit certificates to those Indians who did not have travel documents.

Khurshid said the Indian government is in constant touch with the Saudi authorities on this sensitive issue. "We want the Saudi government to adopt a humanitarian approach so that workers are not punished or penalised."

The issue was raised by Kerala Chief Oomman Chandy with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Khurshid. Other ministers were also briefed about the new law's impact on Indian workers. The Kerala government fears an exodus of India from Saudi Arabia and apprehends this may create acute employment crisis in the state.

(Agencies)

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New Saudi work policy, Saudi labour policy, Indians in Saudi Arabia, Salman Khurshid, Oomen Chandy

New Saudi work policy to affect Indians