5 – No guarantee of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index

Saudi Arabia

The ITUC does not have an affiliate in Saudi Arabia.

Political parties are still banned in this country governed by the Al Saud royal family which does not tolerate any opposition. The Constitution gives King Abdallah absolute power over governmental institutions and affairs of State, and severely restricts political dissent and freedom of expression.

In practice

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Workers sentenced to prison and physical punishment for asserting their rights03-01-2017

In early January the Saudi Criminal Court in Makkah punished workers for “destroying public property and inciting unrest” while protesting against unpaid wages. Forty-nine former BinLadin Group workers were sentenced to 300 lashes and up to four months in prison. They were punished for protesting months of unpaid wages and setting the company’s buses on fire in May 2016 after a collapse in oil revenues left the kingdom unable to pay private firms it had contracted.
The government has yet to impose meaningful sanctions on companies that fail to pay the wages due workers. Returning home with outstanding wage claims is the fate of many unpaid or underpaid migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. For instance, in 2016 delays in major construction projects due to a drop in oil prices and subsidy cuts resulted in more than 5,000 Filipino workers being repatriated from Saudi Arabia without wage.
The much-heralded Wage Protection System (WPS), which has been gradually implemented since 2013, has not succeeded in preventing or redressing wage abuses. The system should flag overdue monthly payments as they occur, after which authorities must investigate and impose the necessary penalties. But the WPS provides little protection to migrant workers who still face a number of obstacles to access means of redress, including high judicial costs, unsympathetic authorities and an inefficient judicial process. The Saudi Justice Ministry announced that new labour courts would be established by the end of 2016 to help expedite these cases, but no progress has been made in this regard.

A recruitment agency brings domestic workers to the market and displays them as merchandise29-11-2016

Just like in the most macabre Victorian-age tradition, a number of domestic workers were brought to one of the markets in Dhahran and were displayed by a company “selling” their work on an hourly basis.

Binladin Group dismissed 77,000 workers without paying arrears30-04-2016

The construction company of the Binladin Group has terminated the jobs of 77,000 expatriate workers and issued final exit visas for them to leave the country. However, workers refused to leave Saudi Arabia without receiving their overdue salaries, which ranged from four-six months of arrears, forcing the majority of them to borrow money in order to be capable of paying rent and surviving in the country. The company, which did not disclose the number and nationalities of affected workers, said it would honour its commitments “in case further manpower is released.”

Binladin is not entitled to take on new projects in the kingdom because of a pending investigation into the collapse in September 2015 of a crane operated by the group at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which killed more than 100 people.

24 Indian workers stranded in Riyadh denounce being victims of torture 16-04-2017

24 Indian workers from the States of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha, recruited through a job agency and hired by the Amal al-Muqauril company in Riyadh, denounced being victims of torture in the firm for not even having access to food or water for 10 days. The workers got their visas through a company called Voltech in the Indian city of Chennai and flew to Riyadh in December 2016. The Indian workers declared that they had been victims of torture of a physical and mental nature from the very first day they joined the company. They finally found a way to publicise their situation via WhatsApp messages sent to Indian local media, asking the Indian Government to rescue them. While the Indian Embassy secured passports for the workers, their employer refused to allow them to leave the country. In April 2017, Indian officials pledged to rescue the workers.

Exploitation of migrant workers31-12-2011

Approximately 8.3 million migrants are legally employed in Saudi Arabia. They make up 90 to 95% of the private sector workforce. Many are victims of various forms of exploitation in conditions akin to slavery. In many cases migrant workers are abused by the recruitment agencies who promise them far more than they can actually earn in Saudi Arabia.

The kafala (sponsorship) system links the worker’s work permit to the employer’s goodwill. A migrant cannot change employer or leave the country without the written consent of their original employer or guarantor. The system lends itself to abuses such as the confiscation of passports by employers, forced labour, non-payment of wages etc. This sponsorship and the slowness of legal proceedings mean that a migrant who is in dispute with his/her employer is at an impasse: he/she cannot continue to work nor can he/she return home. Some run away despite having their passport confiscated and seek refuge at their embassy. The Indonesian media reported that between 19 September and 24 October, the Indonesian consulate in Jeddah issued 4,550 travel documents to workers who had run away from their employer after not being paid or other abuses. The majority were domestic workers and drivers.

Despite the ban on strikes, there were several illegal strikes by migrant workers, usually over unpaid wages.

No collective bargaining30-11-2009

Wages are fixed by employers, based on the nature of the work and the nationality of the worker. Even in big multinational companies, Saudi and Western employees are paid at least 30% to 50% more than workers from other parts of the world.

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