According to recent statistics roughly one third of Saudi Arabia’s population are expat workers.
That equates to just over 10 million people.
And while many of the stories relating to expats in Saudi Arabia refer to highly-paid managers, financiers and the like, the reality is that most expats in the Saudi kingdom actually work far lower paid jobs.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia is a magnet for low-paid workers from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, many of whom work in the construction industry.
The reality is that with so many lower-skilled expat workers clawing for jobs in Saudi Arabia there have been a number of stories of workers being treated unfairly as of late. Some have, for example, had wages unfairly withheld, or have been held hostage by employers who refuse to return their passports.
Such activities have been used in the past as a way to force expats to work during holiday periods or to agree upon unpaid overtime. Repeated violations, where workers have refused to work as demanded by employers, has in the past resulted in staff being unfairly fired.
Without a work visa such expats are therefore obliged to return home, often without the wages that are rightfully theirs.
Alternatively these officially-unemployed workers have disappeared “through the cracks” and gone on to work illegally for other employers. Of course such workers find that they have even less legal protection and are even more likely to experience exploitative working conditions.
Other horror stories exist of workers being expected to work in Saudi Arabia’s oppressive summer heat without suitable breaks in order to cool off. Alternatively some workers have been found to be working unsafely, when employers have refused to supply suitable protective equipment.
In essence, while these employers are definitely in the minority, an increasing number of stories relate to the exploitation of expat workers, cutting costs wherever possible in order to maximize profits for the employer. Often this is done at the expense of workers who are at worst damaging their health or at best are finding themselves not being suitably compensated for their efforts.
In order to protect Saudi Arabia’s reputation as an expat employer of choice new laws are to be rolled out shortly. These will aim to reduce the incidence of such situations and, where violations occur, employers may find themselves liable for considerable fines. The hope is that these new policies will go a long way towards protecting the rights of expat workers, and so encourage more of these vital workers to head to the Saudi kingdom.
The fines are not inconsiderable, and can be levied for anything from employing workers who do not have the required work visa, to withholding salaries. In the worst cases employers may be forced to close down for a period of time, essentially halting their productivity. Repeated violations can also lead to fines escalating in size, meaning that very few employers will risk re-offending if they are caught once.