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Saudi jobs rule: Indians hiding in their homes

Last updated on: April 9, 2013 11:41 IST

Saudi jobs rule: Indians hiding in their homes

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A Ganesh Nadar in Thiruvananthapuram

As Saudi Arabia imposes its 10 percent reservations of jobs for locals stringently, there is a fear psychosis in the kingdom.

"They would have arrested us if we had stayed back," says one Indian who returned. "I am not going back. I will find some work here."

Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar reports from Thiruvananthapuram.

Saudi Arabia's decision to reserve 10 percent of all jobs for locals has created shock waves in Kerala, which has a large population working in the oil-rich kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has a population of 27 million. This includes 16 million citizens, 9 million registered foreigners and 2 million illegal immigrants.

Saudi Arabia has implemented its 10 percent reservation policy for all jobs in the private sector methodically. Companies who employ 10 percent or more locals are marked with a green colour.

Those who employ 7 to 9 percent of Saudis get a yellow colour. Those who employ less than that number or do not have locals working for them are marked with a red colour.

A company who receives a red mark is dealt with strictly. Its work permit, which is issued annually, is not renewed.

Why do Saudis hire Indians instead of locals? Indian labour is available for 800 to 1,000 riyals (about Rs 11,000 to Rs 14,500) a month, but for a Saudi national the minimum salary is 3,000 riyals (about Rs 43,500) a month.

The Indian works for any number of hours while a Saudi will work only for eight hours.

Companies with a red mark confront a harrowing time when work permits expire. The police can arrest not only the workers, but also the owners.

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Image: Saudi Arabia has reserved 10 percent of all jobs in the private sector for its citizens. Image used for representational purposes only
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

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'There is a fear psychosis in Saudi Arabia'

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"There is nothing to worry for executives like me," says Shafir, a sales executive who has just arrived on an Air India Express flight from Dhamam, Saudi Arabia. "You will have to ask the labourers about such problems."

K C Roy looks fresh after his flight from the Middle-East. "Yes, there is a fear psychosis in Saudi Arabia," he says.

"People are hiding in their homes and children are not going to school. The police action is severe."

"Workers from green colour firms buy food for the red colour firm workers and taking it to their homes," says Roy. "Otherwise, these people would have starved. It is sad."

"The good news is that the arrests have stopped in the last five days," he adds. "Now they are not raiding offices and malls any more."

Media reports say King Abdullah has declared a three-month suspension of arrests and companies have been given time to put their house in order.

Roy has been working in Saudi Arabia for 15 years. He joined his company as a driver, but is now an official supervising others. "I work in a big company. We have enough Saudi people working with us. We need not worry," he says.

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Image: K C Roy has been working in Saudi Arabia for 15 years
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Employees of small companies and shops are the most affected

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Mohanan Krishnan has also been working in Saudi Arabia for 15 years. "My Saudi owner is very smart," he says. "We have 300 employees. When this rule came into force, he immediately hired 30 Saudis as security guards. He then started a security company and now hires the Saudis out to other companies for a profit. He is making money from the new rule."

"After three months the problems will start again. I am here on five months leave. I will go back again. My job is safe as I am working in a big company. Those working in small companies or shops are the most affected."

B Suresh Kumar had to leave Saudi Arabia in a hurry after working there for two years.

"Though I went there as a house worker for a Saudi, he allowed me to work outside. I was working for another Indian who was running a restaurant there. We were all Indians working in that restaurant. The restaurant's work permits were not renewed."

"My visa had expired. I was scared I would get arrested and that I would lose my passport. I spent 1,500 riyals (about Rs 22,000) to buy a ticket to come back home. I am not going back."

Suresh Kumar does not mention that the Saudi who gave him a visa did not do it for free.

Adds Mohanan Krishnan, "Saudis who sponsor visas from their homes are doing something illegal. They call Indians over and then tell them they can work wherever they like, but should pay them 300 riyals (about Rs 4,500) every month."

"Those who go on regular visas get 800 to 1000 riyals (about Rs 11,000 to Rs 14,500) salary for menial labour. Those on sponsored visa demand much more. They work on a per hour salary basis. They earn 6,000 to 7,000 riyals (about Rs 87,000 to Rs 100,000) a month, but their stay is illegal," he says.

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Image: Mohanan Krishnan has been working in Saudi Arabia for 15 years
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Illegal immigrants triggered the arrests

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"It is these illegal immigrants that triggered off the arrests," says Mohanan Krishnan. "The Saudis realised that as long as these floating workers are around, they would never know what is actually going on and the locals will never get work."

"The citizens and registered foreign workers can be seen on the computer records," Krishnan adds, "but the illegal visa holders show up as domestic workers, which is a lie. The Saudi government has now woken up to the problem."

P S Shijas worked in Saudi Arabia for eight years, but had to leave in a hurry. "I was working in a shop owned by a Saudi. We were three workers -- all foreigners. This new rule meant he had to hire a local for 3,000 riyals (about Rs 43,500) or pay a fine of 2,500 riyals (about Rs 36,250) every month."

"The owner could not afford to pay the fines. He told us to leave and closed down the shop which had received a red colour in the new ranking system."

"They would have arrested all three of us and the owner if we had stayed back. I am not going back. I will find some work here," he says.

Rajasekhar Nair, secretary to state Minister for Overseas Keralites P C Joseph, told Rediff.com, "We have set up help desks at the three international airports in the state and have a cabinet sub-committee working on a rehabilitation project."

"As of now, we are encouraging them to come up with proposals for self employment. We will provide them with finance at low interest rates and also an interest subsidy," he adds.

The help desks at the airports are:

Thiruvananthapuram: Firoz 95671 53103; Saju 99958 09927

Ernakulam: Amal Thomas 97442 23866; Radhakrishnan 94954 39939

Kozhikode: Manzoor 81868 48074; Imbichikkoya 98479 84777

The Non Resident Keralite Association has a 24-hour helpline: 0091 471 2333339.

So far less than 100 people have returned to Kerala from Saudi Arabia. Many feel there could be an exodus after the three-month deadline ends.

Keralites working in the Gulf send home Rs 50,000 crore every year. They provide 31 percent of Kerala's GDP. Will this bubble burst? No, feel those in the know.

"Only the low salary earners are coming back, the high earners are still there. The money flow will not stop or reduce."

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Image: Image used for representational purposes only
Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

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