Salary delays, expired iqamas aggravate ordeal of expats

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Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH —
A significant number of expatriate workers belonging to the construction sector, largely from the Asian countries, have been living in extremely difficult conditions at several labor camps.

The workers are stuck in a quandary because their employers have not paid them for months and many of them had their work permits and residency cards (iqamas) expired months ago.

The construction sector is the largest employer of foreign labor in the Saudi private sector. About 3.5 million expatriates work in the sector.

In the ongoing slowdown in the market, most business firms are adopting cost cutting measures. Many companies especially in the construction sector are feeling the squeeze, while others blame unpaid bills by clients for their inability to pay their workers.

“Without a regular salary, life is horrible here. Finding money to buy food itself becomes difficult,” an expatriate worker said from his accommodation in Al-Samer district of Jeddah.

“My iqama expired long ago and I could be arrested by the authorities any moment,” the worker added.

Like dozens of others he became a violator of the law for no fault of his.

“I am not even able to give a missed call to any one as there is no credit left on my mobile phone,” said another stranded worker, who lives in the residential camp of one of the largest construction companies in Riyadh.

Many of the workers faced long delays in receiving their salaries with some of them not paid for nearly a year. Scores of them are desperately seeking to return home but were unable to receive their end of service emoluments, which is stalling their travel plans.

They keep watching the developments closely. Many of their compatriots who have returned home by authorizing their diplomatic missions to collect their dues and transfer them to their accounts back home. But they have not received their money several months later.

The diplomatic missions regularly receive inquiries from the returned workers for updates on their payments but the missions were unable to give them any time frame.

In some cases, the workers want to go back home even without receiving their salary arrears and end-of-service emoluments but since their employers were black-listed by the authorities for not complying with labour and visa norms, they are not able to obtain exit visas to leave the Kingdom.

The situation of ailing workers is miserable. Adding to their woes, the insurance companies have blocked their health cards after the expiry of their labor permits.

The condition of Nrimal Kumar, 61, who hails from India’s Punjab state is pathetic. He is suffering from renal failure and requires regular dialyses.

Despite several attempts by the Indian Embassy with the help of the Labor Ministry he was able to obtain an exit-only visa from the passport authorities only after his iqama was renewed.

Kumar was one of 11 ailing Indians who were employed by a now-defunct construction company. They were stranded in the Kingdom with hundreds of other workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

In once case, two stranded workers died while waiting to return home.

The problem of salary delay is not confined to the construction sector alone, but health, IT, telecommunication and mechanical engineering sectors are also feeling the pinch.


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