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Stranded workers forced to live in slave conditions

Thousands of South Asian immigrant workers in Saudi Arabia forced to live in slave conditions. Many companies brought thousands of workers in the kingdom and dumped them in the labour camps. They have not been paid for months and left with no money. Overwhelming majority of workers belonged to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Now the governments of these countries are trying to help the starving workers. These workers are living in the camps in Jeddah, Taif, Dammam, Makkah and Riyadh regions.

More than 8000 Pakistani workers stranded in these camps for months. They have not been paid salaries for months. Many of these workers wants to go back but they cannot leave because of cruel and unjust laws.

Saudi Arabia has the worst labour laws

Saudi Arabia has the most repressive and anti workers labour laws in the world. The labour laws hardly protect the rights of  immigrant workers. The Saudi companies openly violates the laws and treat the workers like slaves without any respect and dignity.

The Saudi recruitment system and labour laws are inhuman, cruel and most repressive. No worker can leave the country without the permission of employer. No worker can change the job without the permission of the employer. The employer has the right to keep the passport of the immigrant worker. The issuance and renewal of the resident permit can not be done without the approval of the employer. The violation of the contact, lower wages, longer working hours, non payment of wages and benefits, delay in the renewal of the residence permit are the common practices of the employers.

Despite the continuation of the blatant violations of the labour rights and inhuman treatment of the immigrant workers, the saudi authorities failed to make necessary changes in the labour laws and to overhaul recruitment system. This whole system can safely be called modern and legal slavery.

Since the economic crisis has hit the Saudi economy due to the falling oil prices, the labour violations have increased. The Saudi government and companies have shifted the whole burden of this crisis to the workers. Many companies have abandoned their work force in the camps. Many immigrant workers sell their houses, gold jewelry and even agriculture land to get visas for Saudi Arabia. Many workers borrowed money to get job in the kingdom. All these workers came here to earn a better living for their families. Now all that dreams of better living have been  shattered. The economic crisis has devastated the lives of thousands of immigrant workers and their families.

Governments have failed

Now different South Asian governments are trying to help the stranded workers. But they are not still serious to resolve the labour issues with Saudi government on permanent basis. The matter of fact is that the governments of the labour supplying countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh have failed to protect their workers. They failed to put pressure on the Saudi government to abolish this inhuman and cruel labour system. They can not individually negotiate better conditions and laws of employment with the Saudi government.

The South Asian governments should come up with common policy and strategy to resolve labour related issues with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. It is the responsibility of the governments to protect the rights of their immigrant workers. The trade union movement in South Asia and South East Asia should also come out and protest the slave conditions of their brothers and sisters. The labour movement should raise the voice and adopt common demands and program to protect the rights of immigrant workers. The labour movement should build pressure on the respective governments to come up concrete program and strategy to deal with this issue permanently.

The Saudi Arabian government has failed to fulfil its responsibility. The South Asian governments should put pressure on the kingdom to fulfil its responsibility. This is not the first and not the last such issue. The labour related issues can not be solved through appeals or charity but it needs long term solid policy and reforms to settle these issues.

The Pakistani government clearly demands to Saudi government to pay wages and all other dues and benefits immediately and to respect the signed contracts of the workers. Pakistani workers from two companies, namely M/s Saad Trading and Contracting Company, Al-Khobar (520 workers) and Saudi Oger Limited (8000 workers) are currently facing problems in getting their salaries and End of Service benefits. In addition, the resident permits of many of the employees have not been renewed by the company. The companies do not refuse the claims of their employees but they have not been able to pay their dues for several months.

In the given circumstances, most of the workers want to leave these companies but only after settling their dues.

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