Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi: Thousands of Indians, especially Malayalis employed in Saudi Arabia, may be impacted by a new work policy of the kingdom that seeks to reserve a certain percentage of jobs for locals.
According to the new Nitaqat policy - or Saudisation programme - of the kingdom, 10 per cent of jobs are to be reserved for locals. The policy is aimed at expanding employment opportunities for Saudi nationals.
There are over two million Indians working in Saudi Arabia, including 576,000 from Kerala alone.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said on Monday evening there was no need to panic and the Indian government would provide assistance to Indians forced to return from Saudi Arabia.
"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," Mr Khurshid assured.
"The Kerala government is setting up help desks at the three international airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Calicut and Kochi and 24-hour call centres to help people in distress," an official of the department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) told IANS.
"Around 576,000 people from Kerala are working in Saudi Arabia. We are requesting for general amnesty and request a review of the ban on re-entry of workers," the official added, declining to be named.
C.P. John, member of the Kerala State Planning Board, said that thousands of Indian workers, especially Malayalis, would be affected "if the Saudi government makes the Nitaqat policy very strict".
"A few hundred Keralites have returned to India following implementation of the policy," John told IANS. However, he said that "there was no clear idea of how many Malayalis would to be affected. There is no real picture, we are continuously waiting for real numbers with work permits".
"Some will have to come back, some will be expelled from their workplaces. We hope they can carry on and get absorbed in other companies in the kingdom," he added.
"Saudis are not accustomed to working like Indians. It is very expensive to employ a Saudi. But the managers will be forced to employ one Saudi, who will work for eight hours and his pay will be 10 percent higher than an Indian's. The Saudis would be forced to rely on cheaper and more efficient Indians, who work for up to 15 hours," John said.
Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed discussed the issue with Saudi Arabia's Assistant Foreign Minister Prince Abdul Azees Bin Abdullah Al Saud in Tajikistan Saturday.
According to reports, street cleaning and other sanitation works have been hit hard by the Saudisation programme as almost 100 per cent of the workers in this sector are foreigners, mostly Indians. Many of them are illegal immigrants.
Labour inspectors and police have begun conducting raids on enterprises suspected of employing illegal workers.
Employers complying with the Nitaqat norms would be rewarded with incentives while those failing would have to shut shop as the work permits of their expatriate workers would not be renewed, according to Saudi reports. The work permit is mandatory for getting the residential permit.