NEW DELHI/DUBAI (Reuters) - India said on Sunday it would send a government minister to Saudi Arabia to try to bring back workers who have been laid off from their jobs, as the foreign minister said more than 10,000 Indians in the country were facing a “food crisis”.
Low oil prices have forced the Saudi government to slash spending since last year, putting 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.
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.
However, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj appealed to an estimated 3 million Indians living in Saudi Arabia for help to alleviate the economic hardship.
“Large number of Indians have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The employers have not paid wages, closed down their factories,” she tweeted on Saturday.
“The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand.”
The Labour Ministry in Saudi Arabia could not immediately be reached for comment.
One of India’s two junior foreign ministers, V.K. Singh, will travel to Saudi Arabia in the coming week “to try and bring back the workers who have been laid off”, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
No exact date was given for Singh’s travel, nor figures on how many people the authorities would try to repatriate, or which companies they had been working for.
Swaraj said on Saturday that India’s other junior foreign minister, M.J. Akbar, would take up the issue with the authorities in the two Gulf countries, saying the government was monitoring the situation on an hourly basis.
“While situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia,” she said in a tweet.
The Consulate General of India in Jeddah said on its official Twitter feed on Saturday 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 after disrupting traffic.
Saudi Oger did not respond to a telephone call and an email seeking comment.
Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy, Douglas Busvine and Andrew Torchia; Editing by Rafael Nam and Alison Williams