Khushpreet Singh from Jalandhar awaits the body of his father Jaswinder Singh who died in Saudi Arabia on February 21. Jaswinder was laid off from his job at a construction company two years ago and was struggling to get dues and passport back from his employer to go home.
Ponnam Satyanarayana, who too has lost his job, died last week, bringing to the fore the struggle of hundreds of workers who lost their jobs in the kingdom, home to largest Indian passport holders outside India.
“My father was without insurance as he was out of job and fighting to get his dues after working 23 years in the company. With his passport in the custody of his employer, he didn’t have any means to come back,” Khushpreet Singh said.
He charges that his efforts to get in touch with authorities didn’t bear any fruit. “Had my father got medical care for his dialysis he would have been alive. He was only 56,” said Singh. The iqama (residence permit) of both the dead workers had expired two years ago and as a result they were deprived of medical insurance facility.
HT spoke to some of these workers who are facing similar issues—of not getting their dues and passports.
An employee of the same company who hails from Punjab but doesn’t want to be named said “For us, it is the saving of a lifetime. How can we go back home without our dues? Almost all of us have our passports with our employers. What can we do.? So far close to 5000 Indians have come back after retrenchments in Gulf. As per Saudi rules, a no objection certificate is necessary for the retrenched worker to go home.
It is a difficult situation for the government, too. In August external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said the Indian workers, who have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia, should to file their claims for unpaid dues with their employers and come back home soon and said the government will bear the cost of their return. “Indian workers in Saudi Arabia – please file your claims and return home. We will bring you back free of charge.
“When Saudi Government settles with the Companies which have closed down, your dues will also be paid,” Swaraj had said.
Thousands of Indian workers have lost their jobs due to slowdown in Saudi economy, caused by both low oil prices and cut in spending by the government. The Indian government had requested the Saudi authorities to give the unemployed Indian workers exit visas without NoC (No-Objection Certificate) from employers.