India, Saudi Arabia sign accord on domestic workers

India and Saudi Arabia inked a “landmark” agreement on protection of the rights of domestic Indian workers in the kingdom and agreed to work out another accord to streamline ties between employers and the 2.8 million Indian workers in that country.

The Agreement on Labour Cooperation for Domestic Service Workers Recruitment was signed by Indian Overseas Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi and visiting Saudi Arabian Labour Minister Adel bin Mohammed Fakeih here.

Ravi said the agreement on domestic workers’ protection would help streamline the labour market. “This will go a long way in protecting the interests of workers…, and for that the Standard Employment Contract should also be finalised at the earliest,” he said.

The Standard Employment Contract would seek to govern the relations between the employer and the employee by ensuring agreed wage, proper working hours, paid holidays, dispute settlement mechanism, the minister said earlier.

Ravi said he wanted to thank the Saudi minister and the kingdom for hosting Indian workers “who have contributed to the economic development of Saudi Arabia and continue to be one of the most disciplined, law abiding, and hard working community”.

He also thanked the Saudi government for “its humanitarian approach while adopting the Nitaqat programme”, and said most of the Indians have corrected their work status.

Fakeih, terming India “an important and active partner in more than one level”, said the agreement was “in the context of the protection of the rights and regulating the labour relations between employers and employees in consonance with international regulations and treaties”.

“This important agreement is the result of the excellent relations between the two countries,” he said, adding that in case of any possible difficulties arising, the two sides have agreed to set up a joint committee of senior officials who would meet periodically and alternatively in either country.

The agreement was conceptualised in April last year during Ravi’s visit to the kingdom.

Some of the main features of the agreement, according to an official statement, are: It protects the rights of both the employers and domestic workers and regulates the contractual relation between them, ensures authenticity and implementation of the employment contract, takes measures against recruitment agencies who violate laws, and establishes a mechanism to provide 24-hour assistance to the domestic sector workers.

A standard employment contract to be finalised would provide minimum wages, working hours, paid holidays and dispute settlement mechanism.

Ravi, answering queries, said the agreement was a “landmark agreement for protection of worker’s interests”.

Of the around 500,000 indian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, mostly working as maids, helpers, drivers and cleaners, around 10 percent are women. There are 2.8 million Indian workers in Saudi Arabia, and Indians form the largest expatriate community in the kingdom.

While India has inked labour MoUs with various countries in the Gulf, this is the first time that India has entered into an agreement on labour cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

“This is also the first step towards a Comprehensive Agreement on Labour Cooperation covering the entire spectrum of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia,” said the statement.—IANS