Kerala is in a tizzy over a change in Saudi labour policy. The Arab kingdom has reserved 10 per cent jobs for locals in all sectors, including small-scale industries. The deadline for the implementation of the new policy, called 'Nitaquat', was last Wednesday.

It has sent Malayalam newspapers and TV channels into an overdrive. The new law is being presented as a deathblow to Kerala's remittance economy. As is often the case with mass hysteria, ground realities are being overlooked in the frenzy.

Contrary to the doomsday scenario being propounded by the pundits, the new law is unlikely to have any major impact either on remittances from that country or on the job prospects there. The reason is simple: Arabs can't do without Malayalis, at least for another 20 years!

Job reservation policies have not had much impact in other countries in the region. Oman introduced a more sweeping policy reform two decades ago. As part of the 'Omanisation' drive, entire categories of jobs were reserved for locals. For instance, they don't issue visas for office secretaries anymore. Does it mean that office secretaries from other countries lost their jobs in Oman? Hardly. They simply redesignated the affected people. A woman secretary in a local newspaper, for example, became 'editorial assistant.' Problem solved. The Malayali lady still draws her salary in Omani riyal.

Taking policy decisions at the top level is one thing and managing people at the ground level quite another. Floor managers want workers, not shirkers. In the instant case, if they have to hire a local candidate along with nine foreigners, they will do it but that is unlikely to hamper the prospects of the latter in any significant manner.

Those who raise a hue and cry over the Saudi decision do not seem to take into account the reputation of local employees in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries. The locals look at it (employment) as an entitlement -- a privilege they're entitled to by virtue of their citizenship -- and hardly contribute anything to justify their hefty pay packets. They mostly bide their time in office canteens, sipping 'kahwa', smoking 'hukkah' and gossipping.

Surely a country cannot be run with such a workforce? The Saudi rulers do know it and that's why they kept the figure at 10 per cent. Otherwise, it would have been at least 50 per cent.

So let's not fret hundred per cent over this 10 per cent thingy!

Tailpiece: Many moons ago, a young Arab lass with a degree from a UK university joined a prominent Gulf daily. Copies were edited manually in those pre-computer days. Her senior, an Indian, was surprised at one of her headings: 'Mr Lanka elections next month'. He went through the copy and was perplexed to find that she had changed Sri Lanka to Mr Lanka throughout. When queried, she cutely informed him that another Indian colleague had asked her to always change 'Sri' to 'Mr'!

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