Labor courts and the rights of expatriate workers


Okaz daily recently reported that the Ministry of Justice has qualified and prepared 58 judges to work in labor courts, which will open next year. The ministry has also honed the professional skills of judges to help them carry out their duties properly and apply their skills to the legal environment. The judges were trained on labor-related legal issues such as the conditions of employment contracts; guarantee and compensation related to risks and injuries; ministerial regulations, and decisions and circulars pertaining to labor and social insurance laws.

The judges were also instructed in the execution law and its bylaws, how to verify evidence in labor disputes and the arbitration and amicable resolution of labor disputes that are being reviewed before a labor law court, as well as how to lodge a case for revoking administrative decisions. The training programs focused on the jurisdiction of labor courts, international labor law agreements, international judiciary principles of labor courts around the world, the skills of reasoning and the interpretation of legal texts related to labor cases, professional ethics and behavior patterns of labor market.

The judges have been selected according to international standards with emphasis on the judiciary qualifications of each judge. Only judges with higher academic qualifications have been selected or judges who have conducted dissertations, academic research or studies on labor law and international labor agreements or those who enrolled in specialized training programs on labor law. Moreover, judges with long experience in the judiciary law have also been selected for the labor courts. The Ministry of Justice said the long-anticipated labor courts aim to enhance investment opportunities in the Kingdom and the transparency of labor law in addition to reducing litigation time and digitalizing courts and transactions.

All of these details were included in the news report. However, I am not sure if the ministry can fulfill these promises about the labor courts. Judges with the specified qualifications must be ready and able to deal with cases and issues that are completely different from the ones that they have handled and reviewed in ordinary courts.

It is also important to realize that judges will be involved with litigation that concerns labor issues and most of these cases will be lodged by expatriate workers who come from different countries and cultures and speak different languages. Those expatriate workers signed employment contracts in Arabic, which they probably do not understand, let alone speak; so they do not know what is written in the contracts that they signed. They might have been deceived when they signed the contracts and promised many things that they probably did not receive when they arrived in the Kingdom.

The expatriate worker is the weaker party in the litigation process because he cannot defend his case before a labor court due to language and cultural barriers. He also cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Have these points been taken into consideration? Does it mean that only the party that can afford the cost of litigation will be guaranteed justice? The courts should have qualified and certified interpreters and volunteer lawyers to help expatriate workers. The judges should simplify litigation procedures for all parties, especially for expatriate workers who do not speak Arabic and cannot explain their case or dispute clearly in a court of law.

I hope that the labor courts do not turn into something similar to labor offices, which are doing a good job in resolving conflicts but are not as satisfactory as they should be and sometimes are not fair enough. I still get a lot of emails from readers complaining about sponsors who do not treat them right. Most of them do not get justice. In this context, I find it suitable to mention the saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Give the worker his wages before his sweat dries.”

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at