Dymphna has written on several occasions about the plight of foreign maids, mostly from Southeast Asia, who work in Saudi Arabia in near-slave conditions. Asian women in the region are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. But men are also subject to oppressive employment conditions throughout the Persian Gulf region.
This is a significant issue, since non-citizens comprise as much as one third of the population of the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). Of the 33 million people in the region, about 11 million are resident foreigners, mostly guest workers from Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
I bring this topic up because of an email exchange with P. Mijhar, a native of Nepal who worked for a period in Saudi Arabia and then returned home. Mr. Mijhar has this to say:
I need your help to publish my article, in which I would like to shed some light on the government policy which is weaker and not enforceable in Saudi Arabia for most of the Asian migrant workers, because the government lacks the mechanism to monitor all the problems and issues concerning it.
Most of the privately owned companies are paying either very low pay wages, or force workers to work 9 to 10 hour shifts with a very low pay scale. As per international labor law only 8 hours is considered as the standard regular shift, but these privately owned companies are doing all sorts of monopoly abuses to their migrant workers every day, due to lack of a government policy to protect them from such acts.
If some of the employees try to react or protest to it then they will be punished or terminated from their work and then sent back to their country under another rationale. This is the really inhuman nature of Saudi Arabia for every foreign worker who is among them contributing to the work force and helping in developing their country for long periods of time.
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There are no legal welfare funds for these migrant workers if they have some accident or some serious sickness and need medical payments. When they become physically disabled or not able to continue their work for the company, they are abandoned or thrown out of the company like waste material, or they stay unnoticed as their presence is denied.
It’s because there is no legal medical insurance or system to check these problems. Even when they try to make claims to the labor authorities, they are not able to succeed with companies, as some of those companies belong to high dignitaries or Royals.
That’s why even though King Abdullah recently changed and reformed the system, as there is still no international body present to implement it. Every international humanitarian organization knows that in Saudi Arabia all the Asian migrant workers are barred from the all those facilities and rights that are provided to others.
If people from other countries in Africa and other continents are paid S.R.1000.00 basic salary then Asian workers are provided below PAR, they are paid a range to S.R. 400.00 to 800.00 maximum. This is based on an the irrational method and partial terms they are applying to Asian migrant workers.
The truth is they have insurance policies in most of the companies, but if employees are discharged for medical reasons, some company officials claim this insurance money for themselves from the insurance company, and do not provide it to workers as promised in their contract, since there are no government legal rules they are bound by.
This is the most critical part of the Saudi government policy that should be changed for Asian migrant workers, as they are also contributing to the development of Saudi Arabia day to day by providing the work force. They cannot deny this statement, as this is true and whole world knows it.
I have more proof to show that all these statements are true, and it should be considered a priority to have international humanitarian organizations or international labor organizations monitor the situation, in order to obtain better results in the future.
I worked previously in Saudi Arabia in a reputable company owned by high dignitaries. They really abandoned me after I became sick, and discharged me after working for 13 years in their company in the post of supervisor. I know a lot about the company monopoly in employee management, and the wages they are providing in that company, if you compare to others’ basic pay scale, are not satisfactory or appropriate.
Some, as I told you, are forced to work 9 hour shifts with very low pay, and they are helpless, as their government officials couldn’t do anything about it, since the Saudi government lacks any legal mechanism to monitor their status or provide welfare to them.
I’m now physically disabled due to a stroke while working in Saudi Arabia. You can write truly about me; I’m not afraid of any consequence might happen to me.
I’m willing to offer myself as a candidate for your story about how Asian migrant workers are dealt with after they are sick and physically disabled.
The outcry over the conditions for guest workers in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC has forced the governments involved to at least give the appearance of taking action. In August of 2005 the Saudi government set up a special department to guard against the exploitation of foreign workers, according to the Migrants News Monitor blog (the original news story is no longer available).
But has anything changed? Last August Global Voices reported on the situation in the Persian Gulf as it affects Asian workers:
South Asian migrant workers (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal) have a notable contribution in the developments of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region. But the abuse and exploitation of these workers is shocking and serious issue. Migrant workers fuel the engine of the economy but they are exploited, abused, discriminated against, and rarely receive government protection.
There are numerous stories of human rights abuses. Just to give some examples:
Thousands of labors sell their belongings to go to Gulf countries for their dream job. Drishtipat reports how they are being exploited and come back with a broken heart.
Hundreds of Nepali workers in Qatar have been driven from the country for demanding better pay from their employers. United We Blog posts a shocking firsthand experience of a young Nepali student returning from America. He describes the inhuman treatment he received in Bahrain International airport because he protested the mistreatment of the deported Nepalis by the Gulf Airlines staffers.
In Kuwait, almost 60% of its 3 million population are migrant workers. Expositions of Arabia Blog chats with an Indian worker in Kuwait who claims he is underpaid.
In United Arab Emirates guest workers make up 85% of its population (reports IHT). Here people from the subcontinent earns about $1 an hour working in scorching 43 degrees heat. Their contracts are critiqued as servitude. While there are hotel rooms that rent for $1000 a night for the prosperous people, these migrant workers rise before dawn in guarded camps like an army base, work for six days a week at guarded sites. There are thousands of heat exhaustion cases of workers each month in one medical facility alone. The Government is under pressure to improve the working conditions and crack downs on Employers who does not pay them.
Human rights watch also has a report on abuse of workers in UAE titled “Building Towers, Cheating Workers”.
Non-Saudis make up 35 percent of Saudi Arabia’s labor force. An estimated 2 million workers are from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Human rights Watch publishes a 135 page report “Bad Dreams: Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia”, which depicts how many of the immigrant workers are abused and treated as slaves.
Some of the frightening and troubling findings of the reports are:
- Sexual abuse and rape of women migrant workers, both in the workplace and in Saudi prisons by Saudi male employers.
- Migrant workers from Bangladesh, India and Philippines were forced to work ten to eighteen hours a day, and sometimes throughout the night without overtime pay.
- The pay is very meager (e.g. $133 for a month and 16 hours of work daily)
- Hundreds of low-paid Asian women who cleaned hospitals in Jeddah worked twelve-hour days, without food or a break, and were confined to locked dormitories during their time off.
- Migrant workers experienced shocking treatment in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system.
Now, on January 23rd of this year, there is an “action plan”. According to AFP:
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) labour ministers and counterparts from Asia are to propose an action plan to protect the welfare of Asian workers, according to their Abu Dhabi Declaration.
The ministers have recommended the drawing up within three months of the plan aimed at “preventing illegal recruitment practices” both at the country of origin and in host countries.
The declaration also called for “promoting welfare and protection measures for contractual workers … and preventing their exploitation at origin and destination.”
Emirati Labour Minister Ali Al Kaabi said at the start of the ministerial meeting yesterday that “guest workers must be afforded the security that they will receive the benefits that they are entitled to”.
In 2005 a new department was created. This year, an action plan. Next year, a regulatory agency, perhaps?
More bureaucratic entities are created and funded. More task forces, committees, regulatory bodies, etc., etc.
But will anything change? Will Saudi Arabia accord any human rights to the infidel guest workers within its borders?
Considering the paucity of rights the king grants to his own subjects, I wouldn’t bet on it.