"This will go a long way in protecting Indian workers"

India signed a labour cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia on Thursday that will cover about a quarter of the 28 lakh Indian expatriates working there and could be the stepping stone for a more comprehensive pact covering all Indian workers in the Gulf Kingdom, said official sources.

The Agreement on Labour Cooperation for Domestic Service Workers Recruitment, inked by Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi and Saudi Arabian Labour Minister Adel bin Mohammed Fakeih, will be monitored by a committee of senior officials.

“This would go a long way in protecting the interests of Indian workers,” said Mr. Ravi who also thanked the Saudis for “adopting a humanitarian approach” while implementing the Nitaqat work policy under which Riyadh had cracked down on expatriates who had no proper documentation. While the law caused considerable apprehension in Kerala, in the end only 1.41 lakh Indians returned home while a larger number found employment in Saudi Arabia during this period.

“This important agreement is the result of the excellent relations between the two countries,” noted Mr. Fakeih.

Over 70 lakh Indians work in the six Gulf countries and India has put much store on ensuring reasonable work conditions and eliminating middlemen from the recruitment process. The agreement with Saudi Arabia, though restricted only to domestic workers, could lead to more such pacts with other major employers of Indian workers, officials hoped.

The agreement regulates contractual relations between employers and domestic workers, ensures authenticity and implementation of the employment contract, promises action against recruitment agencies violating laws and seeks to establish a mechanism to provide 24 hours assistance to domestic workers. A standard employment contract would set out minimum wages, working hours, paid holidays and a dispute settlement mechanism.

The Saudi Minister will meet External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Friday to discuss the regional situation. Saudi Arabia has high stakes in the Syrian conflict and also has views different from India on Iran. Riyadh caused consternation in the international community last year when it refused to take up its two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council.