By Ghazanfar Ali Khan
RIYADH, Jan 3 — Saudi Arabia and India signed a landmark labor pact on Thursday in New Delhi that would provide protection for millions of domestic workers in the Kingdom and their employers.
The umbrella agreement would cover 12 categories of workers including drivers, janitors, cleaners, waiters, gardeners and household managers working for individuals.
It would pave the way for contracts outlining specific details including insurance cover, minimum wages, working hours, paid holidays, emergency leave, worker bank accounts and a dispute resolution mechanism.
Minister of Labor Adel Fakeih inked the pact with Minister of Indian Overseas Affairs Vayalar Ravi. “This labor agreement is the result of the excellent relations between the Kingdom and India,” said Fakeih at a press conference in the city. He is in New Delhi with a delegation of top Saudi officials.
On Thursday morning, Fakeih met Indian Vice President M. Hamid Ansari and discussed key bilateral issues. The minister will hold talks with Salman Khurshid, India’s minister of external affairs, on Friday.
Fakeih said the two countries have “agreed to set up a joint panel of senior officials, who would meet periodically and alternatively in each other’s countries to discuss and implement the contract.” The pact would pave the way for more comprehensive cooperation in the labor sector with India, he said.
Ahmed F. Al-Fahaid, the Kingdom’s deputy minister for international affairs, told Arab News in a telephone interview from New Delhi on Thursday that the agreement is entitled “Labor Cooperation for Domestic Service Workers’ Recruitment.”
Al-Fahaid said it would help “streamline and standardise service conditions for Indian workers.” He said the pact would go a long way to protect all 12 categories of domestic workers.
Sibi George, deputy chief of the Riyadh-based Indian mission, said on the phone from New Delhi that an Indian delegation would visit Riyadh shortly to discuss the “components of the agreement and map out the future strategy.” He said the agreement was conceptualized in April last year during Ravi’s visit to the Kingdom.
George said the pact would protect the rights of both employers and domestic workers, and empowers the two sides to take action against recruitment agencies that violate the agreement. He said the agreement establishes a mechanism to provide 24-hour assistance to domestic workers.
George said the two sides would finalize a standard employment contract on minimum wages, working hours, paid holidays and a dispute settlement mechanism for drivers, janitors, cleaners, private waiters, gardeners, household managers and pilots working for individuals.
He said this was the first labor agreement India has signed with the Kingdom. It has agreements in place with other Gulf countries.
He said the agreement would help control recruitment costs in both countries, and ensure the authenticity and implementation of contracts. It would also facilitate the opening of bank accounts for workers in their own names.
The pact would facilitate the issue of exit visas for the repatriation of domestic workers when they complete their contracts or for emergencies. It would also do away with the role of intermediaries in the recruitment process.
George said that 25 to 30 percent of the 2.8 million-strong Indian community, the largest expatriate group in the Kingdom, would benefit from the agreement. He said maids formed 1 percent of the total because of stringent Indian restrictions on this category of workers heading to the Kingdom.
George said Saudi officials have told him that Indians are the most preferred worker community in the Kingdom. More than 1.4 million Indians rectified their status during the recent grace period, he said.–Arab News