Majority of expatriates employed in small-scale sector

: The implementation of a new Nitaqat (classification) law in Saudi Arabia has sent shudders through thousands of expatriate Malayalis working in different parts of the Gulf and many more dependents back home in Kerala.

The concern of the NRIs and their dependents has been palpable across Malabar, particularly in Malappuram district which boasts nearly half of the Malayali expatriate Malayalis in Saudi Arabia. Of the nearly 7 lakh Malayalis working in Saudi Arabia, about 3.5 lakh are from Malappuram district.

“The numbers are so huge that it calls for the intervention of the government,” said K.V. Abdul Khader, general secretary of the Kerala Pravasi Sangham.

The new nationalisation rule of the Saudi government is expected to affect the small-scale business sector, in which the majority from Malabar are employed. Most people from Malappuram and the neighbouring districts of Malabar are engaged in low-ranking jobs in different places such as grocery shops (bakala), tea shops (boofiya), vegetable shops, supermarkets, chocolate shops, hotels, furniture shops, hospitals and schools. Many are employed as cab drivers, private vehicle drivers and servants.

As per the new law, any firm or business that employs nine hands or below should give job to at least one Saudi citizen with minimum monthly salary of 3,000 Saudi Riyal (SR). Many small businesses

managed by Malayalis are likely to face a crisis in the wake of the implementation of the new law. Sources said that big-time businesses were unlikely to be affected by the law.

Thousands of Malayalis are employed in grocery shops and tea shops across Saudi Arabia. Most of them get an average salary of SR 2,000 or SR 2,500. There are people who work for SR 1,500 a month or even lower.

“I know many cases where our friends manage such shops with a monthly turnover of SR 4,000 to SR 5,000 on an average. They often employ two Malayalis at the shop by paying them salary of SR 1500-2,000 each. Their profit will be around SR 1,000 or 1,500 a month. With the implementation of the new law, they would have to employ a Saudi citizen by paying a minimum SR 3,000 a month. Their businesses are going to be in trouble,” said M.P. Mohammed, a leading travel agent in Malappuram.

The loss of business is likely to lead to loss of jobs to thousands of people. “I think this Nitaqat law will not affect the skilled people who are employed in a different segment,” said Mr. Mohammed.

Sources said if the new law was implemented strictly, nearly two million expatriates were likely to be affected. Several lakhs of them would be Keralites.

“I am sure our shop will have to be closed down if the Saudi government implements the law strictly,” said Jalal Ahamed from Angadipuram who works in a tea shop in Saudi Arabia. But, like thousands of others, Mr. Ahamed is hopeful of some concessions from the government. “We have got similar concessions from the government before,” he said.

As Saudi citizens are generally averse to working in such small business establishments, expatriates alone will have to manage the show with the permission of the government.

The Saudi government has indicated that none of the three-lakh small business units in the kingdom employs any native. Even if the Nitaqat law is enforced, these business establishments are unlikely to get Saudi citizens because they are generally reluctant to work on minimum wage of SR 3,000 a month. “This factor gives us some hope,” Mr. Ahamed said.

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