Friday, April 20, 2012

New developments in Nitaqat program

I had covered in my earlier post (click here) in detail about the Nitaqat program. I would now like to update readers of some very important developments which have been announced by the Saudi Ministry of Labor.

Four conditions have now been imposed for those who want to transfer their jobs from red and yellow categories to green and excellent categories. The workers requiring transfer must have completed at least six years in Saudi Arabia and at least two years in their current companies. The transfer would be done only when their work permits expire and finally, such workers must obtain a request letter from the green / excellent category companies asking their transfer from red/yellow category companies. This letter must be submitted to the Ministry of Labor for initiating the transfer process.

Let us analyze what this really means for expats. To begin with, those expat workers who really thought that they could automatically get rid of their current red/yellow category employers for a better future with green/excellent category companies cannot do so. The worst affected are those who have recently come to the kingdom and who have not yet completed six years.

Secondly, even if they have completed six years, they would have to wait until their work permits have expired. What this means is that since red and yellow category companies have to fold up anyway, these people would lose their jobs and have to leave the kingdom. In other words, if their current company has not employed enough Saudis to become green or excellent, they have to send back their employees (those who have recently arrived) to their home countries. What a torture it is going to be for these people!

This is indeed a very big turning point for a huge section of expats as it is going to decide whether they can continue or not in the kingdom. I will continue to keep updating you on further developments in this blog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Skill test for Iqama renewal in Saudi Arabia

Not a single week passes before some wise guy in the kingdom gets a new idea. This time, it is the announcement that starting from end March, 2013, all expatriates would compulsorily have to undergo a skill test if they want their iqamas to be renewed!

Not only this, even expats who come on fresh visas to the kingdom would be subjected to this skill test. And this includes even laborers! In other words, expats who are on labor visa (but who in reality are not laborers) would also be subjected to the skill test.

Now I really wonder what kind of skill is expected from a laborer. The poor guys who earn a pittance of as low as SR500 per month, most of whom are illiterate, will be forced to give a computerized test which will consist of multiple choice questions. The announcement that those foreigners failing in the test "would be given one more chance" proves how generous they are! What happens to those who fail the second time too? The implicaiton from the announcement is that they would have to leave, because their iqamas would not be renewed.

Now, who is the one going to administer this test? It is an agency with a fancy name called "Technical and Vocational Training Corporation". I just Googled this name and visited their website thinking it would give some more information. Well, they do have the 'latest' news which is someone congratulating someone else and their website getting some award in 2011!  Some useful information, finally.

I had mentioned in my earlier post (click here) on a similar futile attempt aimed at engineers in Saudi Arabia. The fundamental question here is, how competent is this organization in the first place,  to test expatriates? Isn't it as stupid as a person saying that since he holds the ticket, the train would not move?

The TVTC was originally intended to give vocational training only to Saudis. However, this new announcement linking it to iqama renewal not only sets a dangerous precendent, but is also unhealthy for Saudi economy. If a person is not qualified / trained, then why to hire him in the first place? The reason why an expatriate is required to work here is because they cannot find a suitable Saudi to do that, right? Rather than correcting this, here comes a brainwave - the root cause of all evils are expatriates, so make them undergo this test (in other words, a new way to make money). Someone please intervene and stop such announcements bordering on lunacy.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Expats affected by Nitaqat

Much has been spoken about Nitaqat and its associated procedures, with so much hype about Saudization. For the uninitiated, a quick recap of my earlier article (click here) is not out of place. What I would like to focus now is about expats who have lost their jobs and worse still, those who do not even know their fate.

After so much talk about how expatriates who were in red and yellow categories could transfer themselves to green and excellent categories without their sponsors' consent, a new type of problem has now begun to surface. Unscrupulous sponsors have now started dumping their expat employees under the pretext of Nitaqat, without paying their dues. The worst affected are those who found jobs in green category whose new sponsors don't want to change their iqamas. In other words, the sponsor's name and details have to be transferred in the iqama but doing so would mean additional burden for the new sponsor (like charges for iqama renewal, exit/re-entry fees, etc., so, these poor guys are like neither here nor there officially. Many of them have unpaid salaries mounting to several months from their previous sponsors.

On a related note, much has been written about expats abandoning their sponsors and fleeing / working with other sponsors illegally, etc. The fundamental question is, why would they do it if they were paid their dues properly and on time? Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of the law wantonly, right? In this context, I would like to bring to your attention a very important provision in the Saudi Labor Law. I quote from Article 81 (1) which mentions as follows:

Without prejudice to all of his statutory rights, a worker may leave his

job without notice in any of the following cases:

(1) If the employer fails to fulfill his essential contractual or statutory

obligations towards the worker.

So, there you go. There is actually official sanction that a worker may leave his job without notice if his sponsor doesn't pay his dues OR any statutory obligation (which means renewal of iqama, payment of overtime where applicable, end of service benefits, etc - all of these fall under "statutory" obligations).

Now, why then all this talk in the local press about expats abandoning their sponsors as though they were criminals? Don't get me wrong, I do not want them to abandon their employers, afterall they have come here to make a living. The point I am trying to make is that, when it is perfectly legal to do so (at least that's what the law says), why are these poor guys made to run from pillar to post just to get what is rightfully their due?  I had mentioned in one of my earlier articles (click here) about how important your contract is. But what do you do when it is so blatantly flaunted by some greedy sponsors? To add fuel to the fire, we now have news about a proposal to tax expatriates. Please, first pay the salaries properly and on time, then talk of taxing expats!