Unpaid Saudi Guest Workers Starving as Bosses keep Billions Owed


The exploitation of migrant workers is turning into a full-fledged humanitarian crisis.

Dawlat Khan has worked as a health and safety officer for the construction firm Saudi Oger in Saudi Arabia for nearly eight years, but his experience took a turn for the worse 8 months ago when his monthly salary of US $2000 abruptly stopped.

India SendsFood Aid toStarvingCitizens in RichSaudi Arabia

According to The Middle East Eye (MEE) Khan is only one of some 50,000 Saudi Oger employees who have not been paid since last summer. The kingdom’s largest private company reportedly owes employees US $800 million in back pay.

Living in a work camp where rent is US $133 per month, Khan has to rely on friends for food and accommodation costs. Most crucially, like many migrant workers in the country, Khan’s family is reliant on his earnings in the kingdom.57427fd544f64


Unable to send remittances home for the past 8 months, Khan says his family is suffering, with his wife having been forced to sell all her jewelry in order to send their eldest son to university this year.

“But there is nothing left for my other children to sell,” he told MEE. “My wife and children are suffering now .I don’t know what we are going to do.”

Last month, the State Bank of Pakistan found that the biggest source of remittances to Pakistan come from Saudi Arabia, with more than 1.6 million Pakistanis travelling there to work between 2011 and 2015.

“I came to Saudi to give my children a better chance in life,” Khan said. “Before everything was good, but now I’m not getting paid and my life has turned into a nightmare.”file-01-3190021614516534

Khan can’t even leave the country, as he can’t afford a flight back home – but says he doesn’t want to leave without being paid.

“We can’t leave the country,” he told MEE. “We have no money for tickets and we are waiting for our money. If I get my money I will leave this country and I will go to Canada or America.”

Vani Saraswathi, from the migrant justice organisation, Migrant Rights explained to MEE how foreign workers in the isolated kingdom are subject to more exploitation than other Gulf states.


“There is absolutely no civil society space. The country is so large, a lot of the problems occur away from the main cities. So workers find it difficult to access even the consuls or missions,” she said. “The lack of legal aid in all of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) is a huge issue, and particularly so in a place like Saudi Arabia … Providing food and helping with repatriation is seen as a resolution. But most of these workers would have paid heavy recruitment fees – and borrowed to do so – so going back without their dues is far from a resolution. It’s just deferring their angst from one country to another.”

Despite calls from Saudi officials ordering Saudi Oger to pay their employees last week, after it was found that India was compelled to feed nearly 10000 Indian citizens working in the kingdom, after they had been left starving, Khan feels he isn’t any closer to being paid.

“Some Saudi officials have come and told us we will get money,” he said. “But they have been saying this for three months – so far we haven’t received one riyal from them.”maxresdefault

Khan told the MEE the situation can be deemed a full-on humanitarian crisis. With people starving and poor, employees are resisting against the injustice being inflicted upon them.

In June, 150 Saudi Oger employees had protested outside the company’s offices in Jeddah, setting fire to vehicles. Just a month earlier, workers from the construction company, BinLadin Group, also set fire to buses after not being paid.

The circumstances for these workers are compelling some to take their own life.

Sajjad Binalis, who himself has been working for the health company Semac since last year and who stopped receiving pay just 4 months in, told MEE that his his friend Shahid Iqbal hung himself 2 weeks ago after not being paid for three months.

Binalis’ family in Pakistan, like Khan’s, is reliant on his money, and is in the same perplexed state. After approaching the Pakistani embassy for help, they simply said his problem was not unique to him in the kingdom.

Binalis sent MEE a video, in which him and several colleagues can be seen pleading with their manager for their salaries.The manager assures them they will be paid “next week”, to which the workers protest, “You always say next week.”yemen-saudi-deportations

Yemeni workers rounded up for deportation

 Binalis, like Khan, wants to leave Saudi Arabia, but is desperate to receive his salary before leaving.

Mohammed Barr’s story is yet another instance of unfair treatment of foreign workers in the country. While Saudi authorities are deeming unpaid salaries to a financial crisis, Barr says the case is much more than that. .

“They are trying to get foreigners out of Saudi Arabia – they have increased the cost of ID cards and companies are not paying us our salaries,” he said in the MEE.

Indian Woman Reportedly Has Arm Cut Off by Saudi Employer

Working in in Saudi Arabia for the past 10 years as an IT technician, Barr explained to the MEE that renewing ID cards has increased by ten-fold, and sponsors that are necessary to get a work visa, take as much as 20 percent of an employee’s monthly salary.saudi_indonesians

Barr is also desperate to leave Saudi Arabia, but is required to pay his sponsor $2,666 iin order to do so – money he does not have.

“We need people to listen,” he said, urging the international community. “No one is doing anything and no one here will help us.”


No Access to Medical Care

Migrant workers in need of medical treatment have been shut out of Saudi Arabia’s health care system because employers did not provide them with residency permits.  Forty-year-old Mohamed, who is from a rural village in Bangladesh and supports his wife and three children, told us that he became ill as a result of the living conditions that his employer forced him to endure. The employer denied Mohamed medical care and insisted that he continue to work. Because Mohamed did not have a residency permit, he was unable to seek and obtain medical treatment independently of his employer.barbars

Long Working Hours without Overtime Pay

The kingdom’s labor law includes specific standards for daily work and rest,101 and has clear provisions for overtime pay.102 In violation of the law, employers have forced migrant men and women to work well in excess of eight hours a day and forty-eight hours a week, without payment of overtime wages.

For example, none of the foreign workers at a large hotel in Dhahran received overtime pay that their contracts provided for, and many worked more than the stipulated hours, according to Romeo, a twenty-seven-year-old electrical engineer from the Philippines who worked at the hotel from February 2001 to February 2003.  He also told us that the hotel workers were forced to pay the company 1,500 riyals for their two-year residency permits, an illegal practice  under Saudi law. The hotel’s fifteen Filipino workers submitted a written complaint to the government labor office about these practices, but decided against pursuing the case for fear of losing their jobs. “The manager of the hotel met with us and threatened to send us home,” Romeo said.

 A satirical song about the Saudi crackdown on migrants has become a hit on YouTube. “Ja Jawazat” – depicting Asians without passports – has been viewed more than a million times since it was posted in June. –  more at: http://al-bab.com/saudi-expulsions-crisis#sthash.QXAY1Irg.dpuf

Unpaid Salaries

Throughout this report, we document the low salaries that skilled and unskilled migrant workers are paid in Saudi Arabia.  In view of these prevailing wages, it is unconscionable that some employers withhold salaries and force workers to leave the kingdom without full reimbursement of their earned wages. The conditions of departure for some migrant workers – including official deportation — afford them no opportunity to lodge complaints against their employers and seek remedy in Saudi Arabia for unpaid salaries and other benefits that they are owed.10984534407128711822

Women workers who live in forced confinement and almost total isolation are particularly vulnerable to this abuse. Edna, a thirty-year-old married woman from the Philippines who has two children, returned from Saudi Arabia in December 2003 after completing a two-year contract as a domestic worker with a Saudi family in Dammam. She told us that she was forced to leave the kingdom although her employers owed her $1,308 — a sum that included $640 in unpaid wages.

“I did nothing except work for them,” Edna said, describing days that started at five in the morning and ended after midnight.  After her household duties were completed, she was often ordered to provide lengthy massages to her female employer and one of the woman’s daughters. Edna said the massages became a nightly routine, “even if I was tired or sick.”  She said that she was fed only once or twice a day, and  sometimes was hungry because she did not have enough to eat.

Edna never had a day off and never received a vacation or vacation pay. Her employers saved money because they never provided Edna with a residency permit; when we asked Edna about her iqama, she had no knowledge about this document or her right to it under Saudi law. (Information about Edna’s forced confinement during her two years in the kingdom is included in Chapter 3.)

Filipino workers gather near their makeshift tents outside their consulate in the Saudi coastal port city
Filipino workers gather near their makeshift tents outside their consulate in the Saudi coastal port city

Denial of Paid Vacation Leave

Denial of paid vacation leave is another employer abuse that affects workers in large companies and small businesses in the kingdom.  As noted above, workers covered under the labor law are entitled to fifteen days of paid vacation per year beginning with their second year of employment.116  Carlos, the driver who worked on a three-year contract for a maintenance company in Taef, reported that the company denied his request for a vacation at the end of his three years of employment. He told us that he wanted to return home to the Philippines and the only way he could depart the kingdom legally was to resign from his job.  “It took them two months to accept my resignation, so I actually worked for three years and six months without a paid leave,” he said.117

Maids face the worst in slave conditions
Maids face the worst in slave conditions

Summary Dismissals

Some employers have engaged the services of migrant workers for short periods of time and then dismissed them summarily when they were no longer needed, in breach of contractual obligations.  Workers covered by the labor law are theoretically protected from such a practice,119 although in the absence of de facto protection some workers respond by searching for jobs in the underground economy, which in many cases leads to their arrest and deportation as persons without legal status in the kingdom.  For migrants who paid large sums of money in their home countries to obtain legal employment in Saudi Arabia, the financial consequences of abrupt dismissals, unrelated to their own work performance, are considerable. Agricultural and domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, who have no legal protections under the labor law, are particularly vulnerable to summary dismissals.

For example, Bachu, a twenty-six-year-old farmer from Bangladesh, was let go by his sponsor after only seven months of work, which led eventually to Bachu’s imprisonment and deportation.Bachu told Human Rights Watch that heobtained a legal visa to Saudi Arabia to work on a date palm farm in a village near Dammam, where some of his relatives lived.120  His contract provided a monthly salary of 500 riyals (about $133) with overtime pay of four riyals an hour for work beyond his regular twelve-hour shift, which he told us included a two-hour lunch break.


Legal Obligations of the Government of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 1976, and the government has consistently maintained in official communications with the ILO that the Holy Qur’an – the kingdom’s constitution — provides adequate protections for migrant workers.124  The government has ratified fifteen ILO conventions,125 but only five of the eight conventions that the ILO deems “fundamental” to the enjoyment of basic labor rights and essential for the protection of other rights.126 These conventions provide for freedom of association,127 the abolition of forced labor in all its forms,128 equality,129 and the elimination of child labor.130 Saudi Arabia is not a party to the minimum age convention and the two conventions that guarantee freedom of association and protection of the right of workers to organize.131

In December 2000, Saudi Arabia signed the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the international treaty that entered into force in September 2003.132 Saudi Arabia also signed in December 2002, but has not ratified, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the Convention against Transnational Crime.133

Filipino activists stage a demonstration in Makati City condemning the growing numbers of migrant workers being sentence to death by beheading in Saudi
Filipino activists stage a demonstration in Makati City condemning the growing numbers of migrant workers being sentence to death by beheading in Saudi

The Legal Obligation to Suppress Forced or Compulsory Labor

This report provides ample evidence that migrant workers – men and women – continue to work under conditions that amount to forced labor.  Saudi authorities have legal obligations to address this long-standing problem, particularly on behalf of migrant workers in the lowest-paid jobs who are barred from protection under the labor law, such as domestic servants and agricultural workers.  The increasing use of private labor subcontracting companies to supply low-wage foreign workers to public institutions and private enterprises in the kingdom is another area of concern, and the government should design additional measures to ensure that these companies are not engaging in practices of forced labor.

Saudi Arabia is a party to ILO Convention (No. 29) concerning Forced Labor, adopted in 1930, which defines forced or compulsory labor as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”134  The convention provides that the competent authority “shall not impose or permit the imposition of forced or compulsory labor for the benefit of private individuals, companies or associations.135  The convention obligates state parties to “completely suppress” such forced or compulsory labor that benefits the private individuals and other entities.136

Saudi Employer Owes Guest Workers Nearly $1 Billion in Back Pay …


 Foreign workers gather outside the Saudi immigration department.

Foreign workers gather outside the Saudi immigration department. | Photo: AFP

Aug 14, 2016 – Dawlat Khan has worked as a health and safety officer for the construction firm SaudiOger in Saudi Arabia for nearly eight years, but his …labour

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