Sunday, June 18, 2006

Are We Treating Our Guest Workers Right?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

"Arabnews" Sunday, 18, June, 2006

Let me begin by quoting a letter from an expatriate:

“We were talking about the stock market crash when my Arab friend suddenly said: Many Saudis are trying to figure out why Allah is punishing them so hard. Of the reasons they came up with, moral decadence tops the list. I agree, but not from the same perspective. By moral decadence, they mean materialism, commercialism, dating, indecent entertainment, and less religious devotion and mosque going.

I see it from a different perspective. As a long-term expatriate, I can testify to how tough it is for foreigners to work and live in your country.

I can talk from now to the wee hours of the morning about what many employers are doing to their ‘sponsored’ employees and how the system is less than just to us.

Take me as an example. I signed a contract with a company for a certain salary and benefits. After the company became my sponsor, the contract was suddenly changed, duties were increased and rewards reduced.

I could have gone to the Labor Bureau, but I’d need an expensive lawyer. Besides, I’d have to stay home for a while without any source of income. In addition, in retaliation, my sponsor could accuse me of any number of things, from laziness to theft. He has all the power, connections and tools, and I don’t. So I decided to accept the new terms and stay on.

Like me, thousands get their salaries late, sometimes after months. Others are sent home without compensation or left in the street to find jobs and then pay part of their wages back to the sponsor for keeping them sponsored. And don’t tell me they should complain. You know what it is like when they do it. Their employer could report them to the authorities as absconders. Once captured, they get sent home after staying for a while in the infamous ‘deportation facilities’.

In conclusion, I say: To please Allah, Saudis must re-evaluate the way they treat their guest workers.”

I was ashamed to say much in defense. While, I hope, the majority of Saudi employers are decent and just, too many are not. We have heard stories about the abuse and harassment of nurses, maids and domestic servants. However, we didn’t hear of major changes to labor laws that would prevent such abuses. I understand that the government cannot enter every house, know about every case and protect every expatriate. The authorities cannot, by their nature, interfere in a dispute if the parties didn’t ask for interference. But nongovernmental organizations concerned with human rights can actively seek and find these cases. On behalf of the victims, they should sue the offenders and collect compensations. Hot lines to concerned authorities and organizations should be established, publicized and given to every expatriate on arrival. Random checks on work places and interviews with employees should be conducted. Recently allowed, labor committees in private companies should be activated and given more powers and authority to look after members, like any decent union would.

In addition, we have to be strict with abusers. Punishment must fit the crime. Long prison terms and hefty financial penalties should apply to serious cases of abuse, for males and females alike.

Our media should extensively cover these cases, and publish the proceedings and penalties. Offenders should know what awaits them if they misbehave; we should make it crystal clear to potential abusers that we have a zero-tolerance policy for such crimes.
Major changes to the sponsorship laws are long overdue. So are better facilities and higher capacities for the offices of the Labor Ministry that deal with labor disputes. A worker cannot wait forever without a source of income hoping for a verdict in his favor. Many are driven to despair because it takes too long, sometimes years to get justice.

The human rights body should focus more on the problem. We should encourage them and charity organizations to facilitate and provide services to guest workers under stress, including safe havens, social, medical and psychological consultations and legal representations.

This is much more important than fixing the stock market. If we do that, we could assure our position as the Kingdom of Humanity, the moral authority and leading inspirer to the Muslim world.


easternfried said...

Batarfi, please get it through your head. We are not guest workers. We don't want to be your or anyone else's guest. We want what is divinely our right. We don't want to take anything away from you. But if you want to value us as people who contribute to society, at least tell your saudi friends to watch the news. In America the illegals are fighting for their rights because it is RIGHTS that they are fighting for, not privelegs, not perks, not benefits.

I would venture to say that we foreigners work at least 3 times as hard as you lazy saudis do, and we in most instances get paid less, and we get treated like shit outside of work. How would your people like it if we did the same to saudis?

Please note my anger, and I have it better than most, now please note that if I am this angry, there are tons of others who are probably more. If the situation does not change and you lazy saudi's continue to set on your duffs and force us to work for you with no chance of any respect or advancement, then you will see race based killings in greater number than you see now. You will eventually see race riots by those who have been pushed too far. It is good that your eyes are somewhat open, but they are not open enough. Let me reiterate, we are not guests, we work in this country harder than you are ever willing to do, and we don't want to leave. We want ownership of property, ownership of resources, this is the least we should expect given the kind of hellish life that is given to us. Don't ask us to leave either, if we could help it we wouldn't, but some of us will not take abuse much more. I am glad I have it better than most.

real life said...

Easterbfried, go to and find an article called "wag the tail" and you will know why expats get the treatment they get here. I am not Saudi, but Saudi's have respected me and the many hundreds I know are like family. One of the major reasons is, when , as a principle, you go to some other country, you learn their language and learn about their culture and if you do not like it, you leave. If you like it, you mingle respectebly. How many expats do that? If they did, I can promise you, their would be a response.