King’s intervention indicates warmth in Saudi-India ties

ALL PRAISE FOR POSITIVE SAUDI RESPONSE: India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. V.K. Singh during an interview with Arab News in Jeddah on Friday. (AN photo)
Updated 07 August 2016

King’s intervention indicates warmth in Saudi-India ties

JEDDAH: India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. V.K. Singh has praised Saudi Arabia for its magnanimity and generosity in dealing with the problem of laid-off and unpaid Indians in Saudi Arabia.
Speaking to Arab News during an exclusive interview in Jeddah on Friday, he thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman for “personally intervening and giving instructions for resolution of the problems at the earliest.”
He said he had had a productive meeting with Labor and Social Development Minister Mufrej Al-Haqabani who had assured him of every help for the Indian workers. “I visited camps to learn firsthand the concerns of our people and assured them that they need not worry as the governments of India and Saudi Arabia were working together for their well-being.”

Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What is the takeaway from your visit to Saudi Arabia?
A:
The Saudi government has been extremely positive and helpful. The king’s personal intervention was a magnanimous gesture. Assurances have been given to us that the problems of residency permits (iqamas) will be resolved, and that problems where people want a transfer within the Kingdom to another job will be facilitated. For those who want to return to India, the Saudi government will provide free air tickets.
Q: Have the problems at the labor camps been resolved?
A:
There were earlier reports that people were not getting food and medical assistance. All those matters have been resolved by the Saudi government. We have received very solid support in resolving the problems in going to the camps and talking to the workers. In the two camps that I visited in Jeddah, we had the director general from the Labor and Social Development Ministry (Abdullah Al-Olayan) with us.
Q: Which is unprecedented?
A:
Yes. That is why I am saying that we have seen a very, very positive and desirable response from the Saudis. We are sure that because of this, we will be able to resolve the issues for people who want to return home. There are other issues which of course we have raised with the labor minister. A number of people have not been paid for eight or nine months. They are by no means rich and so they have had to take loans from people around them. They need to pay these before they leave. We have requested for a mechanism whereby the defaulting companies pay these individuals outstanding dues of at least two months. The claims can be made through our missions.
Q: How would you describe these people? Are they stranded?
A:
I would not say “stranded.” They are not stranded Indians. They are people who were working here whose employers experienced an economic crisis due to which they were unable to pay their employees. Obviously, if you have not been paid for eight or nine months and you have a relatively small salary, there is a crisis. To a certain extent, measures to mitigate the problems have been taken in terms of providing food. Let me tell you that the labor and social development minister said that food and such assistance being provided was an important part of Saudi culture. It is a humanitarian problem which should never have happened. I must say that the attitude has been very positive in resolving the problem and assisting our people. There are three million Indians working here and they have made, and are making, a sizable contribution to the Saudi economy.
Q: And there was an acknowledgement from the Saudi labor and social development minister as well to this effect?
A:
Yes. There is an acknowledgment that Indians work very hard, that they have never created problems and so they must be helped.
Q: How many Indians would like to return to India?
A:
Initial assessment indicates that there are few who would like to go back.
Q: How many does “few” mean?
A:
It means 100, 200, 300 or 400. Those who have no liabilities want to go back immediately. The majority needs to pay back personal loans. They would like to go back once their loans have been cleared. Anybody who has worked here for six, seven or eight years is looking at continuing his employment here. There are some who have worked for only two years and for them, the liabilities are not high and so they would like to go back.
Q: An erroneous impression was created in the Indian media that Saudi Arabia was in some kind of war-like situation in which Indians were somehow marooned. That certainly did not help, did it?
A:
The problem is that such stories look very romantic. I think the media in general tends to portray everything as tragedy. Nobody originally understood the crisis. It is of a different nature and it is only when you talk to people that you understand the situation. Even where the food aspect is concerned, there were very few places where matters were that serious.
Q: But it was projected that Indians were starving?
A:
Nobody was starving. What happens is if a person did not have proper food for one day, he would say, “Oh, we haven’t had food today.” It gets accentuated. Plus, the frustration. You know, eight or nine months without being paid is a real problem. Obviously people who come here, most of them are not from rich backgrounds. They have liabilities at home. They cannot send money back and they do not have money for their daily expenses. That then becomes a crisis.
Q: In the written statement issued after the meeting with the labor and social development minister, you mentioned only one company that had a problem?
A:
There may be more companies, but the food issue came up only with one company (Saudi Oger) and that problem has been solved.
Q: Has the Indian government thought of providing interim relief to the families of these workers?
A:
We have asked them to file claims with the embassy and the consulate. The claims are against their dues from the defaulting companies. Once they make the claims, the Saudi Labor and Social Development Ministry will find ways on how they are going to get their disputes resolved so that the money can be paid. The job of Indian missions is to ensure that they get the claims from the people and file them with the Labor and Social Development Ministry.
Q: In the past, we have seen that the missions did not have enough money to hire legal services?
A:
In the last two-and-a-half years that we have been in the government, I have not heard of any mission which has lacked money to hire legal services.
Q: In general, did the good relationship existing between the two countries ease the crisis?
A:
Obviously, the warmth of the relationship has been very visible. The moment I came here, the labor and social development minister met me and reassured me. The king has already ordered these issues to be resolved in the quickest possible time. This shows the warmth of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Q: Your message from Jeddah to the Indian community in India?
A:
My message to the Indian community in India is that we should not panic. Companies fail in all countries. There is a procedure. Let us not unnecessarily ascribe different motives to the events. People are being looked after. There is a big Indian community in Saudi Arabia with a very responsive mission along with a very responsive Saudi government to assist us. With a little patience, things will work out.


Life getting back to normal as restaurants, coffee shops reopen across KSA

It is also mandatory for restaurants and coffee shops to check the temperature of customers, and ensure a space of at least 1.5 meters between them. (AN photo by Fahad Al-Zahrani)
Updated 01 June 2020

Life getting back to normal as restaurants, coffee shops reopen across KSA

  • The government has laid out rules and regulations for employees returning to work in the state and private sectors

RIYADH: Restaurants and coffee shops in Saudi Arabia have reopened their dine-in sections to customers after more than two months of closure as a part of the lockdown imposed by the government to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The reopening comes as a part of the second phase of a government plan, announced on May 26, to resume economic activity and gradually return to normal.
The second phase reduces the curfew and increases time allowed for people to venture out to 14 hours a day, and permitted the resumption of domestic flights.
Arab News toured different neighborhoods in Riyadh, and noticed a large number of people meeting their families and friends in restaurants and coffee shops. Most of them adhered to the government’s regulations of social distancing and were wearing face masks.
Siham Hassanain, CEO and founder of Siham International Trading Co. that owns and operates a chain of restaurants and coffee shops, said that she had not expected such a huge number of people to show up.
 “People want to go out, yet the coronavirus still exists. It still poses a danger and is still spreading.”
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs posted a series of tweets regarding the protocol that restaurants and coffee shops should follow.
As per the protocol, they are obliged to limit the maximum number of clients who can sit at a table to 5 people unless members of one family. It is also mandatory for restaurants and coffee shops to check the temperature of customers, and ensure a space of at least 1.5 meters between them.
The regulations also advise food providers to use disposable items to serve food such as paper or plastic cups and dishes as well as electronic food menus. It also restricts some practices that may contribute to the spread of the virus such as serving Shisha or opening children’s playing areas in shops.
Hassanain said that most people were complying with government instructions, and most of the violations had come from teenagers and young adults.
Riham Ahmed, a 23-year-old student from Riyadh, said she chose to have her lunch with her friends in a restaurant despite fears expressed by her family.
“I’m taking all the preventive measures, putting (on) my face mask and staying away from crowded places, but I have to meet people and go outside, I can’t afford more time of isolation at home,” she said.
The government has also laid out rules and regulations for employees returning to work in the state and private sectors. For the time being, offices are not to be filled to capacity, with only 30 percent of employees allowed to occupy them at any given time, and those in offices must have their temperatures checked prior to entering the building.
The rules also state that handshakes are banned, face masks must be worn at all times, and employees must use sanitizer to wash their hands regularly throughout the day. Furthermore, employees with preexisting health conditions such as immune deficiencies, asthma or respiratory problems, or the morbidly obese, are all exempt from returning to work.

FASTFACT

The reopening comes as a part of the second phase of a government plan, announced on May 26, to resume economic activity and gradually return to normal.

The ministry also recommends that digital means be relied on as much as possible in order to minimize contact and try to prevent people from returning to their offices unless necessary. The full list of regulations is available on the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s website.
Sarah S, a government employee, told Arab News that she had gone back to work but that she was not sure how much she liked the environment. “The office was mostly empty, and it felt wrong. Like when you stay late on a Thursday or come in on a weekend. It’s very eerie and a little unsettling to see so many empty desks,” she said.
She added that while the office was taking every precaution, people were still cautious about the reopening and a constant sense of apprehension still filled the office.
“Everyone is on edge. It will take a lot of time for us to readjust to the idea of being in an office. Things that seemed so normal and mundane before, like handshakes, or sharing files, are all causes for concern now,” she said. However, some employees, who are still working from home, feel the opposite way and wish that they could be in the office instead.
Nawaf M, a human resources employee at a private company in Riyadh, said that everyone from his department was still working from home, but he would prefer to be in the office.
“I don’t like working from home. I feel like the office atmosphere is so important to maintaining a sense of professionalism and producing results,” he said.
While he realized that the threat of the coronavirus is still strong, he said that practicing good “pandemic etiquette” would ensure his safety and allow life to regain some normality again.