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Six-year limit for renewing permits in certain firms
Private companies now categorised into four
KOCHI: The recent shift in Saudi Arabia's labour policy, aimed at boosting ‘Saudisation' of the labour force in a country where expatriates make up nearly a third of the population, is feared to drive out a large number of Keralites in the near future.
NoRKS (non-resident Keralites) in the vast oil-rich country are worried that the new ‘Nitaqat' (ranges) programme, which categorises all private companies into four depending on the level of their compliance with the requirement of employing Saudis, will ease many of them out.
Employees are busy finding out the Nitaqat status of their companies by checking the Saudi Ministry of Labour's website, several Saudi Malayalis told The Hindu.
The Ministry has put the companies into four categories: excellent, green, yellow, and red. The classification is based on the percentage of local employees on these companies' payrolls.
“The employees in the red and yellow category companies could be in trouble,” Abu Thayyil of Karuvarakundu in Malappuram district, who works in a Jeddah company, said. Effective from September 10, yellow companies cannot apply for new visas for recruiting foreign workers. They will get only one foreign worker visa when two of their foreign workers leave. The yellow companies will not be able to transfer visas and change the professions of their foreign staff.
However, they can get the work permits (iqama) of their staff renewed as long as they have not completed six years in Saudi Arabia. It is this six-year clause that has upset Malayali workers. Red category companies cannot effect their foreign employees' change of profession, transfer of visas, and issuance of new visas. However, they will be allowed to renew the work permits of their workers until September 10.
The Ministry of Labour has sought to allay the fears of foreign workers saying the Nitaqat was not aimed at driving them out of the kingdom. “The Nitaqat is not designed nor intended to threaten the stability of guest workers in the kingdom,” the Arab News newspaper quoted the Ministry as saying in a statement.
To placate youth
The Saudi government had, as part of its Saudisation initiative, set a quota for the Saudis in each sector of the economy. For instance, at least 10 per cent of the jobs in the construction sector should go to the Saudis, while in the banking sector the quota is 70 per cent.
Since employing foreign workers is cheaper and hassle-free, many companies have failed to comply with the quota requirement. The huge majority of the labour force in the private sector in the kingdom is foreign. In the labour-intensive construction sector, for instance, the foreign presence is more than 90 per cent.
This has caused high unemployment rate, which at present stands at 10.5 per cent, in the kingdom. Unemployed, educated youths resent this and recently nearly 200 educated youths staged a protest march outside the Labour Ministry — a rare event in Saudi Arabia.
Worried by the frustration of the youth, especially in the context of the Arab uprising spearheaded by educated youth in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Bahrain, the Saudi government initiated a number of programmes that give economic benefits to the youth. Scores of billions of dollars have been pumped into these programmes. The Niqamat is part of this initiative and it compels companies to hire Saudis.
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