Date
25 July 2017
Indian laborers work on a construction site in Riyadh. Foreign governments are pressing Saudi Arabia over unpaid construction wages going back months. Photo: Reuters
Indian laborers work on a construction site in Riyadh. Foreign governments are pressing Saudi Arabia over unpaid construction wages going back months. Photo: Reuters

Saudi under pressure over unpaid wages

Saudi Arabia is facing increasing pressure from foreign countries to ensure that local construction firms pay thousands of workers back wages going back months.

Construction companies are feeling the squeeze from falling oil prices that have forced the Saudi government to clamp down on state spending to stem a budget deficit running at US$100 billion a year.

Reuters is reporting that foreign governments from South Asia, Southeast Asia, other parts of the Middle East and Europe are pressing Riyadh to take steps to get the workers paid.

About 10 million people from those regions work in the kingdom, mostly in low-paid jobs Saudis spurn such as construction, domestic service and retailing.

The Philippines, which accounts for one million of that number, has been contacting Saudi authorities over the matter, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said.

Baldoz has assigned her official in charge of workers’ welfare to tackle the issue.

“I am deploying … a fact-finding mission headed by Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad to meet with the workers, employers and competent authorities,” she said.

In recent weeks, the French ambassador to Riyadh sent a letter to the chief executive of Saudi Oger, one of the country’s biggest builders with about 38,000 employees, asking him to resolve the cases of French staff who had not been paid for four months, a diplomatic source said.

Bangladeshi diplomats said they had contacted major Saudi construction firms to discuss wages that had gone unpaid for over two months.

In a brief statement to Reuters, the Saudi labor ministry said all private sector companies were obliged to pay salaries on time and that it would impose sanctions against firms which were late. It did not elaborate, or comment on individual cases.

An executive at Oger said his company, like others, had been affected for several months “by the current circumstances which resulted in some delays in fulfilling our commitments to our employees”.

The squeeze on the construction sector has become a major issue for the business community in the kingdom.

Last month Abdulrahman al-Zamil, president of the Council of Saudi Chambers business association, publicly asked King Salman to ensure that the government paid the companies.

At some companies, including Oger, hundreds of unpaid foreign workers have halted work and staged public protests to demand their wages, industry sources said — rare in a country where demonstrations are prohibited.

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