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Sushma springs to the aid of workers in Jeddah

"I assure you that no Indian worker rendered unemployed in Saudi Arabia will go without food. I am monitoring this on an hourly basis."

The government has moved to help hundreds of Indian workers laid off by Saudi infrastructure company, Saudi Oger Ltd in Jeddah, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj organising food and monitoring their welfare “on an hourly basis”.

In a series of tweets on Saturday, Ms. Swaraj said the unemployed workers, who had reportedly gone without food for three days, would be provided rations by the Indian consulate in Jeddah, and Embassy in Riyadh.

Even as officials warned that the numbers of Indians in distress could rise dramatically, Ms Swaraj later said “The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand. It is not 800 as is being reported.”

Ms. Swaraj has also deputed Ministers of State, Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Singh and M.J. Akbar, to talk to officials in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Kuwait to resolve the situation.

“We have asked @IndianEmbRiyadh to provide free ration to the unemployed Indian workers in Saudi Arabia. I assure you that no Indian worker rendered unemployed in Saudi Arabia will go without food. I am monitoring this on hourly basis,” Ms. Swaraj tweeted in response to concerned netizens who wrote to her.

Major cutbacks

The 800 Indians at Saudi Oger were laid off as part of major cutbacks by the Lebanese-owned company that used to be among West Asia’s most successful construction companies.In the past two years, the dramatic fall in oil prices and declining Saudi economy have hurt the company’s fortunes, and many employees say they haven’t been paid wages since last December.

In June, several protesting workers on the plant set buses and property on fire, but even the agitation has produced no results yet

MEA officials concede that Saudi Oger is only one of several companies that India is watching with concern given the decline in KSA’s economy; providing food rations for Indians working there can only be a temporary solution.

Speaking to The Hindu from Riyadh, Indian Ambassador Ahmed Javed said officials were working around the clock to help stranded Indians in the labour camps. The Indian Consulate officials have already left for a highway camp near Jeddah where hundreds of workers need assistance.

“We are providing immediate humanitarian assistance in terms of food and medicine to stranded Indian workers here, and at the same time meeting with the Ministry of Labour in the Saudi government to take up their concerns,” he said.

Officials said Minister of State Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Singh would travel to KSA early next week, while his colleague M.J. Akbar would work the phones and speak with his counterparts in Riyadh and Kuwait city to help Indians get their back wages and new employment if possible.

Plummeting GDP

While the Kingdom has seen a steady GDP of 5 per cent from 2005-2015, the GDP could drop to less than 2 per cent in 2016, economic news agencies reported.

Companies like Saad, and the BinLaden group have already laid off at least 50,000 workers in the past year, and many other oil and infrastructure companies are following suit, giving workers “permanent exit visas” to leave and without a promise of wages.

Nearly three million Indians live and work in Saudi Arabia, according to the MEA website, and constitute the largest population of Indian passport holders outside of India. In 2015, Indians in KSA remitted about $10.1 billion home, and the government will feel the pinch if those dry up.

Uncertainty

“Even so, they should return to India if economic prospects are not bright,” a senior official told The Hindu, indicating the prospect of returning to look for jobs in India would still be better than the uncertainty and hardship the workers face at present in Saudi Arabia.

On its part, Saudi Oger said it hasn’t been paid by the Saudi government for infrastructure projects contracted.

In an interview to Bloomberg TV in April, however, Saudi Arabia’s most powerful deputy crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, who oversees the country’s economic reforms plan, said: “We have paid them many instalments, but they have debt inside and outside of Saudi. Saudi Oger can't cover their own labour costs. That's not our problem, that’s Saudi Oger’s,” implying that the KSA government may wash its hands off the plight of Indian workers and other expatriates as well.

(With inputs from PTI)

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 12:25:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Sushma-springs-to-the-aid-of-workers-in-Jeddah/article14517150.ece

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