Number of Indian workers affected in Saudi Arabia yet to be known

New Delhi: It will take a little time to ascertain the exact number of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia affected by a financial crisis, the government said on Friday.

“I think we have to wait for a little more time before we can have full clarity as to how many Indians want to return, how many want to remain there and wish to pursue employment with other companies etc.,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in his weekly media briefing here.

There was confusion over the number of Indian workers affected in the Gulf kingdom after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on July 30 that over 10,000 such workers were affected.

On August 2, the External Affairs Ministry said that in all 7,700 Indian workers belonging to four companies have been affected.

On August 3, however, after Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh landed in Saudi Arabia and held a meeting with Saudi Minister for Labour and Social Development Mufrej Al Haqbani, it transpired that workers of only one company have been affected.

Swarup said that the Indian consulate in Jeddah has already given the list of workers willing to come back to India and those seeking transfer to other companies 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,” he said.

He stated that the issue was being addressed under four broad rubrics: humanitarian issues; issues of the claims of the workers; relocation issue; and repatriation issues.

The spokesperson said after Singh’s meetings, from Thursday onwards, the Saudi government has already taken responsibility of provision of food to the workers.

Singh, he said, had also pointed that care should be taken regarding the conditions in which the workers were 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 the Saudi government has instructed concerned authorities to maintain cleanliness, provide electricity, water supply and medical facilities at the camps in which Indians are staying,” Swarup stated.

As for claims of workers, Swarup said that earlier, in accordance to Saudi law, individual complaints used to go to labour courts.

“Now, the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) Ministry of Labour has set up a committee to look into the claims of the workers,” he said.

“A crisis management group has also been set up by the Ministry of Labour to settle all issues related to Indian workers. KSA Ministry of labour will now appoint a lawyer and we will know the exact procedure regarding this in the next two-three days.”

Swarup also said that the Saudi authorities have conveyed that they were willing to renew resident permits and labour cards to the Indian workers willing to stay back 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,” he said.

“Workers who wish to transfer their services can request the Ministry of Labour for grant of a three-month temporary resident permit-cum-labour card.”

The spokesperson said that many companies, including some Indian construction firms, were interested in taking the services of the retrenched workers.

As for those workers wishing to return to India, he said the Saudi government has said that it would make the necessary arrangements.

“The workers can authorise the Indian consulate in Jeddah to follow up on their cases in labour courts and proceed on exit if they wish,” Swarup said.

“The Saudi authorities have ensured speeding up of the final exit for these workers,” he stated, but added there would be a lag with which all workers would give their applications and issuance of transfer permits would also have to be carried out .