Haj pilgrims face ‘food supply crisis’

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Pilgrims walk in a tunnel between the Grand Mosque in Makkah and Mina.

Pilgrims walk in a tunnel between the Grand Mosque in Makkah and Mina.

Thirty catering companies say they are unable to meet the government’s requirements to provide food for Haj pilgrims this year because they do not have enough visas for seasonal foreign workers.

“The companies have made their stance clear to the Ministry of Commerce, which grants visas for foreign workers recruited for the Haj.” The visas were previously processed and approved on the e-portal of the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), said Al-Sharif Shaker Al-Harithy, a member of the chamber’s food committee.

According to the new regulations, seasonal visa applications would be sent from the Commerce Ministry to the Labor Ministry, which would pass the visas to recruitment offices to hire workers.

Al-Harithy warned that hiring of workers through recruitment offices would raise costs by 50 percent. This would also make the Haj more expensive and affect the low-cost pilgrimage program.

Al-Harithy argued that recruitment offices would not be able to supply sufficient and experienced workers for catering companies. Untrained workers would provide poor services, which could result in catering firms facing legal action for not fulfilling the quality requirements of their contracts, he said.

Al-Harithy said that until last year, Tawafa organizations recruited seasonal catering workers from the countries of pilgrims. This ensured pilgrims had meals familiar to them. The cooks were recruited from leading restaurants in those countries.

Al-Harithy said the MCCI committee has been striving to avoid a crisis in the food supply to pilgrims this year.

He urged the Commerce Ministry to reinstate the old system of issuing seasonal visas, at least until the end of this Haj season. He claimed that one third of the catering companies have already signaled that they would not be able to work this season.

Al-Harithy has also asked the ministry to draft new regulations after consulting the catering committees of various chambers of commerce.

He said the recruitment of seasonal laborers through recruitment offices does not comply with a decision taken by the Council of Ministers three months ago, which stated that the issue of seasonal visas should not be done through recruitment offices.

Catering companies supply an estimated 50 million hot and other meals to pilgrims during the Haj season.

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