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August 8, 2016

Out of every crisis comes the opportunity to be reborn


August 8, 2016

Recently, large numbers of Saudi Arabian based expatriate workers -- mostly from India and Pakistan --were laid off amid a slowdown in the industry due to low global oil prices.

Those who are caught up in the crisis were erstwhile employees of Saudi Binladin Group, which is Saudi Arabia’s largest construction group, and its rival Saudi Oger, which is controlled by the Hariri Family of Lebanon, as well as Saad Contracting and Construction Company, which operates from Lebanon too.

Following that, it is indeed important to talk about some incidental facts because I have been observing the gossip mongering which is certainly not good for bilateralism.

Around 8,000 Pakistani workers and 10,000 Indian workers from different locations in Saudi Arabia have not been paid their dues and salaries, some for nearly two to seven months, while work permits of many others have not been renewed. Some reports say that the numbers are bigger than this. Some stranded expatriate workers have also been offered an agreement under which they can either return to their countries, and may return to Saudi Arabia when they are paid, or they can stay in Saudi Arabia until they are paid. Several protesting workers on the plant set buses and property on fire in June here.

This should be mentioned that there is a big number of Saudis as well among affectees. However, the Saudi national employees can apply to social insurance and benefit from the Sanad System if their salaries are not paid for three months or more. I recommend that diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia should also have such funds or financial insurance programmes for their people because they are the source of the huge amount of foreign remittances.

The Saudi Binladin Group has been barred from taking on new projects in Saudi Arabia after a crane operated by it got collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The company stated that it had fully compensated its dismissed workers, and the job cuts are a routine measure amid a slowdown in the construction industry. It terminated the jobs of 77,000 expatriate workers and issued final exit visas for them to leave the country.

The workers of Saudi Oger Company were not getting their salaries for last seven months, nor they saw their employers, who allegedly runway with their workers’ passports. The crises worsened when the company had also stopped providing food to these workers. Similarly, the situation of Pakistani workers in Dammam got worsened when they were forced to live without a shelter under the open sky without food, medicines and other basic needs. It is, indeed, a moment to cry for us.

Indian mission’s officials were found distributing emergency food to them, and at the same time they have been meeting with the Saudi Ministry of Labour to take up their concerns. The Pakistani Mission also found busy for bringing the matter to the attention of the Saudi authorities.

The services of the Saudi Oger Company were already suspended by Saudi Ministry of Labour for violating the Wage Protection Law. Several probing visits were made to Al Saad Contracting & Constructing Company and Saudi Oger Company by Saudi authority to finalise procedures related to payment of all employees, and to end travel procedures for those with terminated contracts. Standard fines and penalties were also slapped on these companies for violations. There is a fine on companies if they delay the payment of salaries in Saudi Arabia.

On its part, Saudi Oger said it hasn’t been paid by the Saudi government for infrastructure projects contracted. However, deputy crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman stated that “We have paid them many instalments, but they have debt inside and outside of Saudi. Saudi Oger can't cover their own labour costs. That's not our problem, that’s Saudi Oger’s,” implying that the KSA government may wash its hands off the plight of workers.

When these private companies were paid installments by government, they should properly maintain their budget’s spending to pay the salaries as a priority. They knew that Kingdom is continuing to adopt only necessary development projects as per as this year’s budget, which comes in the wake of a sustained slump in oil prices. This situation will be hopefully ended in the next year in view of Saudi Vision 2030.

After learning of the plight of stranded workers, some Saudi companies have come forward to accept thousands of workers on transfer that shows that there is no dearth of Saudi philanthropists.

The Saudi Minister of Labour and Social Development Mufrej Al-Haqbani has said that his ministry will pay greater attention to solving such disputes. The Saudi Labour Ministry has already put the squeeze on abusive companies and sponsors, which have been mistreating their expatriate employees. Saudi Arabia is a country, not a jungle. This country exists in 21st century with improved labour laws to balance the rights of employees and employers both. Unfortunately, this country is always misunderstood and has been the victim of false propaganda. Two sided of the story should be heard before making up the mind.

It should be noted that all those who are not being paid salaries for three months by their employers should report their grievances and lodge a complaint at the Saudi Labour Ministry, which would help them and address their problems. Article 81 of the Saudi Labour Law allows the worker to leave his workplace without notice if his employer fails to honor the contract or pay the salary.

Currently, it is difficult to obtain NOCs from these scandalous private companies (like Saudi Oger Group) because they have shut shop and left Saudi Arabia. I hope that the Saudi government will soon give the necessary ‘exit visas’ to the affected workers at their passports. It should be noted that if an employer keeps the passport of his employee in Saudi Arabia, he faced penalty of SR2,000. It is an illegal to keep the passport. The workers without passports can obtain Outpasses from their Embassy to travel back home.

However, all employees are not keen to go back even though the Saudi government is planning for their repatriation. This factor shows that expatriates have been happy to live in Saudi Arabia, and they just want a good job in Kingdom. As a Saudi citizen, I am so thankful for their services and feel honor to have them in my country. I will look forward to the comeback of these workers if they leave my country this time. As they say, the crises come and go, and out of every crisis come the opportunity to be reborn. 

The writer is a Saudi Media Personality titled as ‘Great Woman.’ She has received many prestigious Awards. She can be reached by