Protesting Workers in Makkah Torched Company Buses in Rare Show of Anger and Frustration against Unpaid Wages and Retrenchments

Facebook Twitter Linkedin YouTube

The angry and frustrated construction workers belonging to Saudi construction giant Binladin Group set on fire nearly eight company buses in Makkah in the latest protest against unpaid wages and mass layoffs. The company wants to send back 50,000 (fifty thousand) workers without paying them wages and other dues. Thousands of workers have been staging rare protests in holy city of Makkah and Red Sea port city of Jeddah. Some construction workers are saying that they have not been paid for six months. Several company buses of Saudi Binladin Group were burned in Makkah on Saturday night, in the latest trouble facing the construction giant. Most of these construction workers belongs to the impoverished South Asian nations including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Others belongs to Egypt, Sudan, Syria and philipine.

Maj. Nayef Al-Sharif, the spokesman for the Civil Defense in Makkah, said late Saturday that firefighters put out the blaze without any injuries reported.

The attack comes a day after the company terminated employment for 50,000 foreign workers and issued them exit visas. Among those laid off were engineers, foremen, steel fixers, carpenters and welders at the firm.

The situation is alarming because Saudi Labour Laws provide no protection to the workers. There is no tolerance on the show of dissent and protests. Saudi labour laws are the most repressive and outdated even compare to other Gulf states. It provides no relief to the workers if they enter into a conflict or dispute with employer. The workers are forced to work longer hours without being paid for extra work. The violation of the contracts is also common. The workers are repressed, exploited,and in many instances forced to work in slave conditions with very low wages. When anybody protest these slave conditions than immediately repressed and sent back to home to live in even more miserable life.

The capitalist class internationally follow the same rule to punish the workers as the result of any crisis in the business. The capitalists scapegoat the workers for the mistakes or crimes committed by themselves. At the time of capitalist boom, workers are the last ones to benefit from it but in the crisis situation workers always bear the brunt. They always attack the living conditions and wages of the workers to save their profits and wealth.

Gulf-based construction firms have been among the hardest-hit due to lower oil prices that have curbed and sometimes delayed government spending on major infrastructure projects.
The Saudi Binladin Group is one of the world’s largest construction firms. Founded in 1931 and headquartered in Jeddah, the firm has been behind some of Saudi Arabia’s most important projects, including roads, tunnels, airports, universities and hotels. It has carried out expansion work throughout the holy city of Makkah to accommodate more Muslim pilgrims, including construction of a massive clock tower with luxury hotels.
But the firm has been barred lately from acquiring new contracts after an initial government probe found the construction company was partly responsible for a crane collapse at the Grand Mosque last year that killed 111 people days before the start of the annual Haj pilgrimage.

There have been reports that many people working for subcontractors of the Saudi Binladin Group at King Abdul Aziz International Airport Project have not been paid their salaries for four months, leading to frustration among these workers. Last week, the anger boiled over with a few construction workers injured during scuffles with project managers at the site.

There seems no light at the end of the tunnel as company wanted to make more layoffs and retrenchments in the coming period. There seems to be a general decline in the construction industry in Saudi Arabia as government halted new mega projects because of restrained resources due to the lower oil prices.  The Arab News cited various possible reasons for the terminations, including government restrictions on the firm and changes to Saudi labour laws that have made it more difficult for the firms to hire expatriate workers over local Saudi workers.

Other sectors have seen hundreds of layoffs as governments across the Gulf look to hire more local workers and reduce public spending in the face of plunging revenues from lower oil prices. There have been layoffs in the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) banking sector and at Qatar Petroleum and Qatar based news broadcaster Al-Jazeera, among others. In Kuwait, oil unions held a three day strike against government cutbacks to their benefits and pay.

Leave a Reply