Lately, I have been receiving many emails from readers complaining about salary delays. Some did not receive their monthly salaries for three months and others for eight months. I have called in the past for the responsible authorities to interfere and solve this problem, as it should be considered a crime not to pay salaries. This time I have decided to highlight this issue through the pain and suffering of the people who live through this problem.
A friend of mine, who is working in a big contracting company that is facing problems, did not receive his monthly salary for over six months now. He told me that his life changed completely since he stopped receiving his monthly salary. With a wife and three children, he is suffering psychologically knowing that he cannot support his family financially.
He said, “I have not been paying my children’s tuition fees as they are in private school. I have not been able to buy groceries on time anymore. My phone has been disconnected many times. I borrow money a lot and my debts to people are piling up. There is no solution on the horizon and I’m unsure when and how we will be getting paid.”
My friend is one among the lucky ones whose family is supportive when it comes to financial help. The family has a special fund in which they collect monthly from each earning member and the fund is activated in times of family members’ needs. The fund pays out to him a monthly amount that would help him and his family tide over the difficult times. Still the humiliation of him not getting paid and supporting his family financially is killing him from inside.
The other example is of a security guard who was not paid for eight months. He is not as lucky as the first example as he had to leave his apartment because he couldn’t pay his rent anymore and he currently lives with his brother. He is not lucky to have a family that supports him so he had to find other temporary jobs to work as a taxi driver or in the fruit market. He said that the situation is unbearable. He said that they have brought this issue to the press many times and have taken their complaint to the authorities but with no luck.
Then there were other emails inundated with group signatories. It is mostly expatriates, who in the collective cloak of strength in numbers, brave to bring about their plight of not being paid their salaries for months into the open. The common refrain in all these mails was that the company they were working for had failed to meet their obligations for months, and after the patient wait of five, six, seven, eight months they have collectively come out in the open to name the company for a quick solution or recourse.
The expatriates who write about their plight have reached the end of their tether and are willing to rock the boat in the hope their respective missions would step up to the plate and assist them in getting what is rightfully theirs and also repatriate them back home to their loved ones without further hitches.
One such email, laced with a litany of issues arising from unpaid salaries, revealed the host of problems they face. Apart from the similar issues of fees, groceries, festivals, and family occasions — both joy and sorrow — that the Saudis encounter in their daily grind when waiting for their salaries, their main issue is their legal status. With the nonpayment of salaries, the company also lapses in other legal requirements. Many of these expat workers worry about the renewal of their Iqamas (residential permits), in the hope that when they get their dues they can stop their slow sinking and climb out of the quicksand of debts to carry on with normal lives.
The classic case that was written to me was of a company that is a sub-contracting company caught in the web of non-payment domino effect. For five months the company has not paid its employees. And the expatriate employees and their families back home marked both the Eids with frugality or not at all. Now many of the employees, whose Iqamas have come up for renewals, find that the company cannot fulfill this obligation too. Some whose Iqamas are still valid are panicking and are ready to take the key step of leaving without any of their dues.
These employees can contemplate such a move because the employer is very just and fair. The employees themselves have written that at the start of this crisis the employer had given a written assurance to all that all their dues would be settled once he gets his dues from the market. And it was revealed that he was ready to give a guarantee to those wishing to leave that they would be paid back home when he is in the black.
Emails of expatriates fighting their battles in the labor court, and their two- to three-year wait for justice following the employers’ delaying tactics and legal chicanery have led to many leaving for their home countries without any justice. In between employers, trying to escape their obligations, resort to the huroob clause to either make an employees’ life miserable or put a group in a spot.
An expatriate friend of mine told me of the case of a group of subcontinent employees that have been battling their company in the labor court for their dues and end of service benefits. They have sustained themselves and their families with odd jobs. These people could survive as they were skilled electricians and to stay legal have transferred their Iqamas to other firms or friends. Their skills got them jobs while they traveled to the courts for justice. And after three long years they have got the verdict in their favor. The court has directed the employer to settle the dues quickly, as many of these people have not seen their families for three to four years.
Then there are case of expatriates being fed up of eking out a subhuman existence in camps where they are forced to keep working without pay, while getting their food with community and mission help. Some solution has come in these cases with the missions stepping in to send them home, if they wished to, after getting a signed form of their dues that will be paid in the future to them back home.
I wonder what would have happened if families, philanthropists, missions and community members do not have the heart to give to these unfortunate souls who suffer at the hands of some heartless people. I say some because not all can be tarred with the same brush. For, like in one earlier example, there are cases of both employers and employees becoming victims of circumstances. Again I call on authorities to take steps that such issues are tackled and nipped in the bud. And if a crisis does happen, they must take action for a quick resolution, for a quick surgical action could stem a slow death.
At present times when countries specify the number of days of unpaid salary needed before a fine can be imposed, Islam was quicker and just and urged all employers to pay before the sweat on the employees’ brow goes dry. We should follow the rules of Islam even before following the rules and regulations set by human beings.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org