Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tough times do not last (really?)

Expats working in Saudi Arabia never had it going so tough, as what is happening now. Some of the developments within the past week left me rather upset.
 
The first was a story about drivers forced into begging because their sponsor did not bother to pay them. Click here to read it. No pay, no food and to top it all, no way for the employees to leave because their passports are with the sponsor. How many ever times has this happened in the Kingdom of Humanity? No one knows when this ordeal would come to an end. As is common with all such cases, the sponsor simply fails to turn up at the Labor Court at the appointed day which will simply adjourn the case to a far away date in future. And when that date comes, the same story repeats. No interim relief for the aggrieved party until then. And no one knows how many adjournments are given and whether such cases  ever see the light of the day. This is how the system has been tailor-made to suit the whims and fancies of such morons.
 
The second story relates to a questionnaire released by the Ministry of Labor. According to the Advisor to the Labor Minister, this questionnaire is "aimed at finding the difficulties and challenges being faced by the workers". Great! So finally someone has acknowledged that workers do face difficulties and challenges. Now don't get elated at this news because what follows next is going to bring you crashing down to ground reality. The Advisor has "advised" all workers to fill in this online form and submit to the Labor Ministry. Problem is, Mr. Advisor, the questionnaire is in a language which most workers do not understand, let alone read. Take a look at it and you will know what I mean (click here). Not that people expected miracles out of this exercise, but do let us know to whom this questionnaire was meant for!
 
A more realistic and rather alarming truth has come out of the bag. This time it is directly from the horse's mouth - Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which represents a substantially large business community. The Deputy Chairman of the JCCI has revealed (click here) that 75% of the contracting firms in the kingdom have failed to legalize their expat (read illegal) workers. This is a frightening fact. Come on, this just means that three-fourth of the firms dealing with contracts did not bother to comply with the Ministry of Labor's infamous campaign in the past one year. No prizes for guessing who would be affected by this. So, what happens next? Will the MoL go ahead and punish these firms or will they take the easy route and punish the expats working in these firms by jailing and then deporting them?
 
The Saudi Government has announced (click here) that projects worth SR855 billion are going to be spent only in the year 2014 for new projects. Which is quite a lot of money. Why not spend a tiny winy miniscule fraction of this amount in just paying wages to expat workers - no I am not asking for charity - just their salaries, which they are rightfully entitled to? The development witnessed by the kingdom from barren sand to what it is today is owed only to the work put in by expats. Please treat them at least humanely.
 
To end the year on a slightly cheerful note, I just noticed that this blog had a visitor count of 1.2 million this week, thanks to you. Let us hope that the New Year ushers good health, good jobs and well-being for all of us and our families.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

All ado about nothing!

There is an old saying - "When the potato gets too hot, don't hold it in your hands anymore". This seems to be the case of the much-publicized and now infamous raids on "illegal' expatriates working in Saudi Arabia.
This blog has been repeatedly highlighting how time and again, rules which were implemented with much pomp were finally reduced to a whimper. First, it was the case of female teachers in the kingdom (click here). So senseless was this rule to transfer their sponsorships to their schools that it was quickly diluted to almost nothing.
Now comes the latest in the series of further dilutions. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs has now announced that workers in fuel stations and those working in automobile service centres will get a two-year grace period to correct their status. For the uninitiated, Saudization is only for white-collar office-based jobs which does not require any physical or mental strain at all. Afterall, it is below a Saudi's dignity to get his hands dirty in a car service centre, let alone having the technical knowledge to do a repair isn't it? And who wants to sweat it out by carrying a 30-kg gas cylinder to the top floor? These menial jobs are for the "illegal" expats from a far away third world planet, right?
In several ways, the extended grace period which expired on 3rd November was a blessing in disguise. Thousands of expats who were trapped and had no way to get out without their sponsors' permission found a great window of opportunity - they simply left! And how it has affected the economy! Building construction, road laying, and virtually every single job which required hard hands-on manual labor has now ground to a halt. Contractors are wriggling their hands unable to complete projects. Taxi drivers have raised their tariffs. Suddenly, the markets are empty with no one to do the dirty work. So, what's the best face-saving way to at least postpone disaster day, if not get rid of it? Read the first sentence of this article again.
As it is, life has become very tough these days. Istemara charges have been raised by 50%. Inflation has shot up everywhere, with salaries not keeping pace. A leading executive of an MNC put it very plainly - "The rhetoric that illegal expats are occupying positions meant for Saudis is no longer cutting ice among common Saudis. The realization is slowly dawning on them that what was meant to create jobs for Saudis is back-firing on them with shooting inflation. To add to the problem, skilled expats are no longer preferring to come to the kingdom to work. The only way to save this country is to scrap outdated rules, open up the economy and treat expats with dignity so that the best talent is tapped.". True words from a wise man, but will it ever work?