Sunday, March 29, 2009

Expat rights upon transfer of sponsorship

These are tough times. The entire world is reeling under a severe economic depression and Saudi Arabia is no exception. Businesses folding up, bankruptcy and mergers during any recession are quite common, but the human cost involved is enormous. Expatriates working in Saudi Arabia simply cannot be insulated from what is happening around them, particularly in these tough times. Fortunately, certain rights have been inculcated in the Labor Law precisely to protect the workers against such calamities.

Articles 17, 18 and 19 of the Labor Law go at length to describe the situation and also to protect the rights of the workers. It is not uncommon to see workers of a company left to fend for themselves, when their sponsor simply winds up his business or sells it to some other sponsor. When the ownership of a firm is transferred to a new owner, or there is a change in the legal status of a firm through merger or partition, the Labor Law is clear on one thing - the work contracts of the workers would remain in force and service would be deemed as continuous. To put it simple, you cannot sack an expatriate worker simply because the new sponsor doesn't want you. All the rights of the worker including his pay as well as End of Service benefits remain the responsibility of both the predecessor and successor owners, in case of mergers.

In case of ownership transfer, if there is any change in the condition, the written approval of the employee must be taken. In case the employee is unwilling for any of the conditions, then the previous sponsor is legally bound to give the employee all his dues. He should also not object to the employee seeking employment with any other sponsor in the kingdom.

The Labor Law also throws some interesting insights if a firm becomes bankrupt. Amounts due to the workers are deemed as "first rate privileged debts". To unwind the legal jargon, what this means in simple language is that when a firm becomes bankrupt, the first right of the amounts from the sale of the firm is to the employee. Article 19 of the Labor Law is very explicit on this. The worker is supposed to be paid one month's salary as "expedited amount" to keep him going. This amount takes precedence over all other expenses including judiciary, legal, banking or liquidation expenses. In short, the law simply says to pay up the employee first before settling the bills of the debtors, lawyer fees, banks, etc.

Ignorance isn't bliss, it is dangerous. It is always helpful if you know what you are rightfully due. Hope this post was interesting.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Car-owning expatriates working in Saudi Arabia must be aware of the term MVPI. It stands for Motor Vehicles Periodic Inspection. Whether you want to buy or sell a car or simply renew your vehicle's registration (Istemara), you simply cannot miss the MVPI. For the uninitiated, let me explain.
Every vehicle running in Saudi Arabia must compulsorily undergo the MVPI test. The Saudi Government has set up highly sophisticated computerized test centers in 24 locations all over the kingdom. The aim of these test centers is to test all the vehicles in the kingdom for their safety and certify their road-worthiness. Unless a vehicle passes the test, it is not supposed to be driven. Don't ask me whether all those rickety shacks on the road (also known as yellow taxis) have all passed this test. I already emphasized on the word 'supposed'!

The MVPI test centers have a fully automated system - well, 'almost fully' would be a more appropriate description. More on this later. Before you take your vehicle for an MVPI test, I would advise you to do all the basic checks - all lamps glowing, brakes working, no black / white smoke coming out from the silencer, and most important, a clean car. Make sure you thoroughly wash your car, including the undercarriage as well as inside the bonnet. Never make the mistake of spraying oil (a normal practice, otherwise) after you have washed the car - traces of oil found dripping could be mistaken as leakage and you could be failed. Also, I would advise you to wait for a day after you wash your car before you take it for a test. This is because any accumulated dirt sticking on to the surface, particularly in the undercarriage, would drop off due to normal running of the car. Ensure that you have a portable fire extinguisher and warning triangle in the boot of your car, before you take your vehicle for a test.

When you enter the MVPI test center, you will first have to go to the reception area and pay SR73. I am talking now of passenger cars, not of other vehicles, whose fees vary. You will have to submit your original istemara and your iqama. These would be verified and the details would be entered on the computer. Take the receipt and drive the car to the testing area. When you enter the test area, you are supposed to leave the key of the car in the ignition and go to the walkway. The technician would take control of your car. You can actually walk in parallel with your car and keep watching the progress of testing. There would be flashing indicators hanging from the roof above the test area, and you can actually know which tests are currently being done on your car.

Except for the visual inspection test, the rest of the procedure is automated. Unfortunately, most of the failures occur in the visual inspection test. There is a very exhaustive list of some 35 items which are checked visually. The other tests, which are automated are the sideslip test (applied to the front axle), brake test, headlight test, Carbon Monoxide and Hydrocarbon test and undercarriage inspection test. To give credit to the system, it is a fairly sophisticated and systematic procedure.

When all the tests are over, the technician would put a sticker on your car's windshield, similar to the one shown above, if you have passed the tests. He would also give you a document in which your result would have been printed.

If there is no sticker and he gives you only the piece of paper I mentioned above, it means that you have failed. The problem is that he would not even explain to you where you have failed, as he would simply go to attend the next car in the queue. You will have to take the paper to another counter separately where you would be told the tests you have failed. You would have to do the required repairs within 14 days and give a retest for the failed items only. The fees for the retest is SR24 for a car.
Now for the downside. My own experience in the Dammam MVPI center has not been all that good. Not once has my vehicle got through in the first attempt. Each time, it was failed for the flimsiest of reasons. Once, it was failed because the front seat cover was slightly torn in one corner - mind you, just the cover not the seat itself. One other time, it was failed due to Carbon Monoxide content - infact, just the previous day I had done a computerized engine tuneup in a reputed garage and everything was under control. The guy in front of me in the queue was failed because his chasis number had dirt on it! Atleast, I was lucky. One of my friends had to do a complete spray-painting of his car. He was failed because his car had scratches on the side. So, it probably reinforces the belief (right or wrong) that, like so many other agencies, the mood of the technician testing your car also matters, isn't it?
When you bring the car out of the test center, you would literally be mobbed by the guys from the various workshops outside. Of course, it would cost you a fortune, and you would have to bargain well. In my case, one guy even offered me a warranty - he would pay me back the entire fees if I failed in the retest - wow! this was one hell of an after-sales service unknown anywhere else in the kingdom.
The best part is that when you do a retest, you would invariably pass! How prophetic these garage guys are or is it just too much of a coincidence? One would never know. The moral of the story is simple: Be prepared for a retest of your car and dont spend too much money on your car before the first test. When you fail the first time, you would know where to spend your money. If it is minor, just get it done in one of these garages outside the test centers, otherwise just drive back home and get it fixed by your regular mechanic, for a more reasonable rate. At the end of it all, I just can't stop the thought which comes to my mind after every MVPI test "Why not they just take my SR97 (73+24) and pass me in the first attempt?"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Update on family visit visa

My earlier post on family visit visa has now been updated. Please click here to view the same. The changes are mainly in the online link of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also, now you do not need to choose the option of "family visit" as before. You would directly get the page in Arabic. The rest of the procedure is the same.