Indian officials said more than 6,200 of the workers stranded in Saudi Arabia had been employed by troubled construction firm Saudi Oger, a conglomerate owned by the family of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
The company had for months been unable to pay workers’ salaries.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to assist the laid-off Indian workers, junior foreign minister V.K. Singh said in Riyadh after meeting Saudi labour minister Mufrej al-Haqbani.
Haqbani said King Salman had directed officials to take all measures to resolve the problem at the government’s expense, and Riyadh would hire lawyers to pursue the workers’ claims and make sure their rights were respected.
A sharp drop in oil prices has caused a state spending slowdown in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top crude exporter. Construction firms have been squeezed financially and in response have laid off tens of thousands of south Asian and other foreign workers.
A Lebanese newspaper reported that the Saudi government was in talks with Hariri on a proposal to take over Saudi Oger. Under the proposed deal, the buyer would assume all debts and financial obligations of Saudi Oger.
Saudi Oger officials and Saad al-Hariri could not be reached for comment. Saudi government officials were also not available to speak about the reported takeover proposal.
Singh visited the Red Sea city of Jeddah to meet the Indian consulate there and then flew on to the capital Riyadh, Indian officials tweeted.
They said a total of about 7,700 Indian workers had been stranded. Of these, 4,072 were staying in worker camps in the capital Riyadh, while 2,153 were in Jeddah.
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said on Saturday that workers faced a “food crisis” because employers had not paid their wages. The Jeddah consulate is distributing emergency food rations to the workers pending efforts to repatriate them.
Saudi Arabia says it investigates any complaints of companies not paying wages and if necessary obliges these firms to do so or risk fines and other penalties.
The director-general of the labour ministry office in the Mecca region promised “swift and immediate” steps to help about 2,500 Indian workers of Saudi Oger who had been without pay for months, according to the Arabic language Okaznewspaper.
Abdallah al-Olayan was quoted as acknowledging that workers had suffered “hardships” after a contractor with the parent company cut off power supplies to them.
The telegraph, India