India to rescue jobless in Gulf: Sushma Swaraj

New Delhi: Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh, will travel to Saudi Arabia next week, while MJ Akbar, also a MoS with the ministry, will take up the issue with the authorities in the two Middle Eastern countries, saying the government was monitoring the situation on an hourly basis.

Low oil prices have forced the Saudi government to slash spending since last year, putting heavy pressure on the finances of local construction firms which rely on state contracts.

As a result, some companies have been struggling to pay foreign workers and have laid off tens of thousands, leaving many with no money for food let alone for tickets home. “While the situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia,” Swaraj said in a tweet.

Separately, the Consulate General of India in Jeddah said on its official Twitter feed that it had distributed 15,475 kg of food over the past three days in association with the Indian community. It posted pictures of Indian people queuing up to collect the food packets. The hardships faced by Indian migrants come amid rising protests about working conditions in Saudi Arabia.

Hundreds of foreign workers at construction firm Saudi Oger staged a public protest in Jeddah at the weekend to demand seven months of unpaid wages, Saudi Arabia’s Arab News reported. They were dispersed by police as they were disrupting traffic.

Saudi Oger did not respond to a telephone call and an email seeking comment. The Saudi government says it investigates any complaints of companies not paying wages and if necessary, obliges them to do so with fines and other penalties.

According to an Indian community worker involved in the food distribution work, of the 50,000 employees of the company, 4,000 are Indians. “For the last seven months, these Indian workers (of Saudi Oger) were not getting their salaries,” Indian Consul General in Jeddah Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh told Agencies over the phone early Sunday. “We provided food to 2,450 Indian workers in five camps on Saturday,” he said. “We have provided 15,475 kg of foodstuff besides cooking ingredients and 1,850 readymade food packets to these workers.”

Sheikh said that not only has Saudi Oger not been paying the salaries for the last seven months, it has also stopped providing food to these workers. “The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand,” Swaraj said in a tweet. “It is not 800 as is being reported,” she said.

Indians unite:
Appealing to the over three million-strong expatriate Indian population in Saudi Arabia to “help your brothers and sisters,” Swaraj said, “ I assure you that no Indian worker rendered unemployed in Saudi Arabia will go without food,” Swaraj said in another tweet. “I am monitoring this on the hourly basis,” she added.

Following this, the man who had tweeted about the situation in Jeddah again tweeted pictures of Indians queuing up for food. While Saudi Arabia has over three million expatriate Indians, there are over 800,000 of them in Kuwait. Most of them are blue collar workers.