Monday, November 26, 2012

New rule....Phase-II ?

My earlier (click here) seems to have touched a raw nerve among expats working in Saudi Arabia. There has been an outpouring of emotion from the numerous mails I received and considering the sensitivity of where we live in, I decided not to publish them. However, things seem to be happening the way it was predicted. 

After the initial protests by businessmen, what I had feared most unfortunately became true. Companies stopped renewing the iqamas of their expat workers. So, overnight thousands of workers would now become illegal aliens in the kingdom for residing without a valid iqama and hence, could be imprisoned for no fault of theirs, just because their sponsors did not renew their iqamas. Sanitory workers in Mecca went on strike as the company which employed them simply could not afford to pay SR2400 per worker per year more as penalty. As protests as well as garbage started mounting, Mecca municipality agreed to renew the iqamas of the workers. These poor guys get paid only SR250 per month and live in the most pitiable conditions you could ever imagine in the kingdom of humanity. The company which hired them says they could not find Saudis to work as janitors and sanitary workers. After all, who wants to do the dirty job of clearing garbage, something below the dignity, when there are poor expatriates to do it? Here is one job which would never be Saudized !

Okay, so the news is that once Mecca municipality agreed to renew the iqamas, the strike was called off. Take a look at this link. Remember, the municipality had to intervene not because they wanted to help the poor expat workers, not because they wanted to improve their living conditions, but because citizens started protesting as garbage started to pile up. This is just the tip of the iceberg. What about other company workers who are not involved in sanitary work? We get a hint that the rule would be relaxed / revoked / diluted as the labor minister says that it is up to the cabinet to revoke it and that he would "inform the higher authorities of the effect of implementing the decision". See this.

So, as expected we can hope for a rollback of this rule very soon (as usual)!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New rule, but no need to follow immediately !!

If there is something which expatriates working in Saudi Arabia would never miss, it is the perennial  entertainment provided by the frequent declaration of rules one day only to be overturned / diluted the very next day. This has been happening so often that people have now become so used to it !

Remember the absolutely atrocious and impracticable rule a few years back when no expats were allowed to run grocery shops / fish markets and vegetables of not more than 4 kg per person was supposed to be issued in these shops to customers? All this to prevent expats from "grabbing" the jobs of Saudis and not to run illegal grocery businesses themselves. Within 24 hours, the 4 kg rule was withdrawn. And when Saudis protested that they could not handle themselves the loading / unloading of goods, the rule was diluted within 3 days saying that expats could stay in these shops to "help" Saudis. Afterall, it was below their dignity to lift grocery bags wasn't it? When this was also not enough, the rule was even further diluted saying that big supermarkets could have their own grocery division. Never mind if they were run by expats!

Such comical turnarounds happen with such regularity that this place never stops to amaze. Here is the latest one. Just two days back, there was a new rule which said that any firm in the kingdom which had expatriates more than Saudis would be fined SR2400 a year for each excess expat. What a great way to increase local employment and also to make money! Some wise guy must have been patting himself on his back on this brilliant idea. But not so fast. Predictably, there were protests all over - not by expats but by Saudis themselves (see this link). Such was the backlash that the Ministry of Labor diluted the rule saying that small businesses employing less than 30 persons would be exempted from this rule, even if the number of Saudis in these firms was less than that of expats. I wonder whether each time such a rule is brought about, people would wait for a few days to see whether the rule has been retracted or diluted enough! I get a gut feeling that this rule would still be diluted further saying it applies only to new businesses or whatever. In fact, poorly-paid expats must thank their stars for this retraction, as it would have led to more employers not paying their dues citing this as an excuse.

Every country in the world has a right to employ its own citizens. But this has to be done in a systematic way. More importantly, there has to be a sea change in the attitude of people, most importantly being dignity of labor. Obviously the kingdom does not have enough white-collared managerial jobs in air conditioned offices, where people could enjoy life without lifting a finger, for every single Saudi. The culture that it is okay for people to work as janitors, sweepers, mechanics, electricians, carpenters, etc., as long as money earned was legitimate, has to be drilled into the psyche of a population which has been bred on oil money. So, rather than squeeze the last few halalas from expatriates in Saudi Arabia, the focus should be on developing local skills.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Archaic rules and procedures

My earlier post on schools in the kingdom (click here) seems to have opened up a lot of wounds among quite a few expats. I have been receiving a lot of private emails with people just pouring out their grievances. Quite a pity, because  the expat community seems to be at a loss on where to go to get their issues resolved.

Just take a look at the Ministry of Interior's website and you would understand the reason for their despair. It is common knowledge that wives of expatriates working in Saudi Arabia are routinely hired by international schools in the kingdom as teachers. Now what does the MOI website say about this? There is a big list of violations and corresponding penalties mentioned. When you scroll down the list, you hit upon one of the  "violations" as follows:

"Practice of work by the dependents such as wives and children"

And the "penalty" has been mentioned as:

"He shall be fined as follows:

•  1000 S.R. first instance.
•  2000 S.R. second instance.
•  3000 S.R. third instance and the issue will be referred to the Minister of Interior for his direction towards termination of the violator's Iqama and deport him."

Goodness gracious! What it means is that the husbands of all these teachers would be deported for committing the serious crime of sending their wives to teach kids in schools!

Teaching is considered a noble profession in any civilized world and teachers are held in high esteem and respect, because they impart knowledge to children. And here we have it officially in a Government website that it is a "violation" with a "penalty" threatening to deport the husband because he sent his wife to work. If only the meaningless controls and visa restrictions based on nationality were relaxed, why would our International schools hire the wives of expats as teachers?   On the one hand, the quality of education in the kingdom is going down by the day due to lack of quality teachers, while on the other hand we have such threats issued in the official website of the Government. 

Here is another violation mentioned in the website:

"Employing an expatriate who was recruited to work for another employer, by an expatriate resident"

The "penalty" mentioned in the website for the expatriate for this 'crime' is of course, deportation (what else?). But interestingly, if the person who employed the person was a Saudi, he would be fined only SR 5000 in the first instance, according to the website. So, what about all those Saudis employing maids as extra help during Eid season? What about those Saudis employing poor laborers as cleaners, helpers, loaders, janitors, etc in their homes and farms? They are all supposed to be violators, aren't they? And by the way, what do you expect from a guy when he earns just SR 500 per month? Obviously he will try to look for extra work to increase his income, so that his family can eat at least two whole meals a day. Is it such a terrible crime? 

I wonder why we have such obsolete and archaic rules which make life so difficult. Be it bringing one's family into the kingdom, be it changing one's profession, or just an exit/re-entry visa, everything is so complicated. The pity is, it really need not be so. These are unnecessary artificial barriers made to make life miserable for one and all. And we are supposed to be in 21st century.

Rules and regulations are supposed to streamline processes and make life organized, not to complicate things. I just wish good sense prevails and a real revamp of such primitive regulations occurs.