Talks between Saudi Arabia and India over the repatriation of thousands of laid-off workers have come as a big relief for nearly 10,000 Indians working for the construction giant Saudi Oger. They are living in labour camps in Jeddah, Mecca and Taif, without any food for the last ten days. In Riyadh alone, 3,175 employees have not received their salaries for the last eight months. Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh is overseeing the evacuation process. The first batch will reach India on August 4.
More than 30,000 employees of Saudi Oger have filed complaints with the Saudi labour ministry over the alleged non-payment of salaries. The Saudi government, which is in talks with the company, is discussing a proposal to take over the company. Local newspapers reported that under the deal, the government would assume all financial obligations of the company. The Saudi labour ministry has already issued orders to allow Indian workers to transfer their kafala (sponsorship) and renew their residencies.
Latest developments have made the employees hopeful. An employee of the company told THE WEEK that after the death of its founder Rafik Hariri, the company was suffering from mismanagement. "For the last nine months, I have not received any salary. When the food services stopped, we tried to contact Indian authorities by Twitter, and then came the sudden action from [External Affairs Minister] Sushma Swaraj. The Indian embassy and the labour ministry of Saudi Arabia have arranged for food supply in the camps. But there is no news of our salaries," he said. "We don’t want to return home empty-handed."