India, Saudi Arabia ink domestic labour pact

Agreement to guard rights of domestic workers, employers

India and Saudi Arabia inked an agreement on Thursday to protect Indians going to the kingdom as domestic workers.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi and Saudi Arabian Minister for Labour Adel Bin Mohammed Fakeih signed the agreement on Labour Cooperation for Domestic Service Workers Recruitment, which would guard the rights of both domestic workers and their employers.

The agreement will also regulate contractual relations and control recruitment costs in both the countries.

“This is the first step towards a comprehensive agreement on labour cooperation covering the entire spectrum of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia,” said Ravi.  He said that a standard employment contract would be finalized and the template would provide minimum wage, working hours, paid holidays and dispute settlement mechanism.

The agreement ensures recruitment of domestic sector workers directly or through registered recruitment agencies and guarantees authenticity and implementation of employment contract between the employer and the domestic workers.

The agreement is expected to benefit a large number of people, as approximately 25 to 30 per cent of Indian residents in Saudi Arabia are covered by what the government of that country term as domestic workers.

This is the first time that India and Saudi Arabia entered into an agreement on labour-related matters. The agreement, which ensures legal action against recruitment agencies if they violate laws of either of the countries, was necessitated after Saudi Arabia brought the domestic workers into its laws.

“The agreement ensures that recruitment agencies and the employer do not charge or deduct any cost of the recruitment from the domestic worker’s salaries,” an official of the Overseas Indian Affairs ministry said.  “It also ensures that recruitment agencies and the employer do not impose any kind of unauthorized salary deduction,” the official added.  Indians, with a total population of 28 lakh people, constitute the biggest group of migrant communities in Saudi Arabia.

About 130,000 Indians, however, returned to India from Saudi Arabia last year after Riyadh launched a Saudization programme called ‘Nitaqat’.

Ravi thanked the Saudi Arabian authorities for announcing a “grace period” from April 2013 to November, 2013 and thus allowing overstaying expatriate workers to correct their status or to return to their country without penal action.

More than 1.4 million Indians have availed the concessions during the grace period to correct their status in Saudi Arabia. The agreement signed on Thursday makes it mandatory for the employers to open bank accounts for the domestic sector workers, apart from establishing a mechanism to provide 24 hours assistance to the domestic sector workers.

It also facilitates issuance of exit visas for the repatriation of domestic sector workers upon contract completion or in any emergency situation.

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