After reports of thousands of unemployed Indian migrant workers stuck in Saudi Arabia without food prompted international outrage, the issue of the Gulf kingdom’s treatment of its labor force is yet again under spotlight.
In the wake of the recent economic slowdown, Saudi Arabia has been delaying payments to its government contractors, a move that has had the worst impact on the country’s large labor force mainly hailing from underdeveloped South or Southeast Asian nations.
Nearly 16,000 laborers from India and Pakistan alone, working with big Saudi companies, have reportedly not been paid their salaries for about eight months. Most of them do not have work and what’s worse, they cannot even leave the country since getting an exit visa requires the permission of their employers.
Under Saudi Arabia’s controversial kafala (sponsorship) system, the livelihood and freedom of foreign workers solely depends on the word of their boss. Even their passports are confiscated by their bosses upon arrival.
“They don’t give us any answers about our salaries,” said Mohammed Salahaldeen, a Bangladeshi worker currently living in a labor camp in Riyadh set up by the Saudi Oger construction company, told Bloomberg. “After they pay me my salary and benefits, I will go.”
It’s not as if things were great for workers before the deteriorating economic situation. Exploitation of labor force and domestic from countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Ethiopia at the hands of wealthy Saudi employers is a well-documented issue.
But all pleas to the Saudi government fell on deaf ears and it’s only growing worse with time.
As the news of the stranded Indian workers spread, the Indian government sprang into action and the consulate distributed around 16,000 kg of food in aid.
However, there are more who are still in need of assistance.