We have to respect Saudi labour laws: Chandy

Thiruvananthapuram, April 1 (IANS) Chief Minister Oommen Chandy Monday told the state assembly that the concerns of Kerala on the strict implementation of the new labour policy in Saudi Arabia were being conveyed to that government.

He cautioned, however, that nothing could be said or done that would affect the good relations that the state enjoyed with Saudi Arabia.

“We have no right to question the laws in Saudi Arabia… all what we can do is to tell them that if they go very strict, it would affect our state badly. We already have initiated steps to see that there are more high-level diplomatic talks to tell (them) our viewpoint,” Chandy said.

The chief minister was replying to a leave sought for an adjournment motion moved by the Left opposition to discuss the new labour policy in Saudi Arabia, requiring every establishment there to offer a minimum number of jobs to Saudi nationals.

Nearly two million people from outside Saudi Arabia working in that country stand to lose their jobs, among them thousands of people from Kerala.

“Both the central and state governments have miserably failed to come to the rescue of the hapless Keralites who are on the verge of losing their jobs on account of the new labour laws,” said K.V. Abdul Khader from the Left opposition, who moved the motion in the assembly.

Speaker G. Karthikeyan emphasised that speeches in the assembly should not attack the Saudi laws.

“I am only saying this because it is quite natural that when a motion is moved, the rival fronts blame one another. Also, there is likelihood to even blame the laws of other countries,” said Karthikeyan.

Chandy also told the opposition that while they are free to trade charges against the state and centre, no reference should be made against Saudi Arabia.

“I have requested the centre to see that they put up a request with the Saudi government to provide a six-month amnesty for Keralites before implementing their law in letter and spirit. This gap will enable our people to get their papers right and make it possible for them to find new employers,” Chandy said.

“Another request to the centre is to see that all those who have to leave that country do not get banned for employment in other Middle Eastern countries. The state government has also asked the centre to see that all those who have to return are brought back free of cost. From our side, we will see that a rehabilitation package is provided to returnees,” Chandy said.

State Minister for Diaspora K.C. Joseph asked the media not to exaggerate reports, calling it an “exodus”.

Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan said: “The need of the hour is that our people should be given a chance to remain there and work. We pledge all our support and we are prepared to join you when you go to meet the prime minister.”

In the wake of the Arab Spring, Saudi authorities, concerned that the large army of unemployed young people could foment internal revolt, introduced changes in labour policy to ensure jobs for Saudi nationals. The Saudi Arabian government estimates unemployment in the country at 12.2 percent.

Under a new labour policy, called Nitaqat (naturalisation) programme, all firms employing more than 10 people are required to recruit a minimum number of Saudi nations. Firms have been colour-coded on the basis of their compliance with the new law, and strict action has been announced against violators.

Labour inspectors and police officers have been conducting raids on enterprises employing illegal workers.

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