India talking to Saudi Arabia over new work policy

New Delhi, April 3 (IANS) India is holding talks with Saudi Arabia over the kingdom's new work policy Nitaqat, that seeks to reserve a percentage of jobs for locals, an official said here Wednesday.

He added that there has not been any significant rise in Indians returning home due to the policy.

Indian ministers may also meet Saudi Arabia's labour minister if the situation so requires, the official said.

"We have not seen any significant increase in number of people coming out due to Nitaqat. We have seen a slight increase in the number of people coming back due to irregular appointments or irregular working hours," said Syed Akbaruddin, the external affairs ministry spokesperson.

"We are trying to ameliorate their conditions," he added.

He said India is holding an ongoing dialogue with the Saudi government and that the Indian ambassador met the governors of the provinces of the kingdom last month where Indians are concentrated, including in Riyadh, Medina and the eastern province.

"Senior Indian ministers could even meet the Saudi minister of labour if the necessity is felt. The Saudi minister is not in the country and would return in the latter half of April. He would be the right interlocutor for the government of India to interact with on the issue," said the spokesperson.

He added that the ambassador (Hamid Ali Rao) has placed officials in Damman and other ports to help those who want to come back and do not have the relevant travel documents.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi met Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy Tuesday. Kerala sends the maximum number of workers to Saudi Arabia.

They agreed that Kerala "will give assurance of checking identities" of all those going to the Gulf countries for employment.

To tackle the huge number of illegal workers or those flouting Saudi labour norms, the kingdom "is trying to merge a corporation to recruit people, which will be a government company".

"Labour in an important component of our relations. There is ongoing dialogue with Saudi Arabia on labour and we are in discussions of taking their support of our electronic attestation of labour contracts. There are a number of issues we are talking about and we want to understand what is the reality," an official said.

Indians are an actively preferred community in the Gulf. "They work better, work very hard and do not involve themselves in local politics," said the official.

There are 6.5 million Indians in the Gulf, including 2.45 in Saudi Arabia.

According to the World Bank, in 2012 Indians worldwide sent back remittances of $70 billion, with around 60 percent of it coming from those working in the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia is trying to identify and send back Indians who are flouting the work rules - those workers who go to the kingdom on a specific job and then move to another job, or go with one sponsor but then move on to another sponsor.

"The Saudi government is clamping down on such people, including those who have brought them and are not fulfilling the requirement," the official added.

On Nitaqat, the official said the kingdom has asked for a minimum of five percent of jobs to be reserved for Saudi employees. "They are not asking for the moon. They are only looking after their own interests, and we cannot question it," the official added.

"While one should be concerned about the situation, there is no need to get paranoid," he added.

On Monday, Khurshid had said that there was "no need to panic" and the Indian government was ready to provide any assistance to affected Indian workers.

"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 had said.

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