Working in Saudi Arabia is a challenge. More so when you realize that you are offered a pay which is far less than what was promised / anticipated. Whenever a fleeting thought comes to my mind why some people with far less qualifications and experience than me land themselves in jobs paying much higher than mine, I just look around at some of my poor low-paid fellow expatriates and thank Almighty for what I am.
My heart goes out to these lowly-paid people who slog it out. Can you believe that some of these guys get paid just SR450 per month? I was talking to a Nepali janitor the other day who say he works 365 days a year without a break by doing odd jobs. Ditto with the Bangladeshi car cleaner who is forced to take up sundry jobs after his regular work.
My attention was drawn to the labor ministry's proposal to raise the minimum wage for Saudis in private sector. Take a look at this article. Fair enough and I feel happy for them. But please, extend this to everyone, not just Saudis. If you pay someone SR450 a month, what would he eat? Forget about saving and sending something for his family back home, his own sustenance would become a question mark. Sending a person on vacation once in 3 years may make good economic sense for a few selfish sponsors, but wouldn't it encourage petty crimes by some of these guys out of desparation?
What is it that makes these people work for a pittance? I guess it is a combination of illiteracy and desparation back home that they jump into whatever is offered. It is no wonder that they are taken for a ride. Unscrupulous agents in their own countries promise them the moon and when these people land in the kingdom, they are in for a rude shock. To add to their misery, some of the sponsors retain their passports and do not release them, which makes them virtual slaves.
I was talking to a Pakistani driver the other day. He said that it was 5 years since he went home. His sponsor wouldn't give him his passport and wouldn't allow him to work with someone else either. When asked what he was planning to do, he told me without the slightest emotion in his face that he had "escaped" from his original sponsor and that he had no iqama and that after earning enough money from odd jobs, he would go straight to the infamous bridge in Jeddah and wait for the police to arrest and deport him back home.
Sad story, but this is the reality. What is the remedy? To begin with, there must be minimum wages fixed for each profession and the labor ministry must strictly monitor whether the workers are indeed being paid what was promised. As in the UAE, bank accounts must be made compulsory for all expatriates and all payments must be done on time. Vacation of atleast once a year must be made mandatory and binding. Let's hope that the year 2010 ushers in good times for all our fellow expat brothers and sisters.