Saudi Arabia Agrees to Help Stranded Workers, India Says

Saudi Arabia has agreed to assist thousands of laid-off Indian workers stranded in the kingdom without money or food, an Indian minister said Wednesday.

A sharp drop in oil prices has forced state spending cuts in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top crude exporter. Construction companies, squeezed financially, have laid off tens of thousands of South Asians and other foreign workers.

More than 6,200 of the stranded Indian workers were employed by the construction company Saudi Oger, a conglomerate owned by the family of a former Lebanese prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, which has been unable to pay workers’ salaries for months, according to Indian officials.
In a visit to meet the Saudi labor minister, Mufrej al-Haqbani, in Riyadh on Wednesday, India’s junior foreign minister, V. K. Singh, said the Saudi government had provided assurances that it would resolve the crisis and ensure that workers’ financial claims were pursued, even if the workers returned home.
“Things are not as bad as they have been shown and projected,” the minister said in joint remarks with Mr. Haqbani after their meeting.

“Things are very fine. We are in constant touch with all the officials and the various departments of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Mr. Haqbani said that King Salman of Saudi Arabia had directed officials to take all measures to resolve the problem at the government’s expense, and that the government would hire lawyers to pursue the workers’ claims and make sure their rights were respected.
“Yesterday, we contracted all the providers to provide health, catering, maintenance and everything, and we contracted the airlines to send back anybody who wants to go there upon the approval of the Embassy of India,” Mr. Haqbani said, according to a text of his remarks.
A Lebanese newspaper reported on Wednesday that the Saudi government was in talks with Mr. Hariri on a proposal to take over Saudi Oger. Under the proposed deal, the buyer would assume all debts and financial obligations of Saudi Oger.
Saudi Oger officials and Mr. Hariri could not be reached for comment. In the past, the company has declined to speak publicly about its finances. Saudi officials were also not available to speak about the reported takeover proposal.

A total of about 7,700 Indian workers were stranded, according to Indian officials. Of these, 4,072 were staying in worker camps in Riyadh while 2,153 were in Jidda.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj of India said on Saturday the workers faced a “food crisis” because employers had not paid their wages.
The consulate in Jidda was distributing emergency rations to the workers pending efforts to repatriate them.
Saudi Arabia says it investigates any complaints of companies not paying wages and, if necessary, obliges the companies to do so or risk fines and other penalties.

Other foreign governments, including France, the Philippines and Bangladesh, have been pressing the Saudi authorities and company executives to ensure that construction companies pay their workers.

Before the economic slowdown, about 10 million foreigners — largely from South Asia, Southeast Asia and other parts of the Middle East — worked in Saudi Arabia, many in low-paid jobs in sectors Saudis spurn like construction, domestic service and retailing.


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