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Victims ask: Is there no end to abuse of worker rights?

JEDDAH: Shino Lukose is a 27-year-old Indian biomedical technician. He works in a public hospital and was brought to the Kingdom under the sponsorship of a Riyadh-based medical company. For the past three years he has been denied his annual vacation, and to make things worse his contract and iqama have expired, and his employer is turning a deaf ear to his situation.

"I'm suffering. I can't go outside because I don't have a work permit. I have no job and no income. I'm living with my friends, yet it's illegal. The police may catch me, as I don't have a residence permit. I'm afraid I will cause problems for my friends," he said.

Lukose's case is one of several reported by the media and human rights groups. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report in July 2004, entitled "Bad Dreams: Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia," which is the first comprehensive examination of human rights abuses that foreign workers experience in Saudi Arabia.

The report included testimonies from migrant workers who entered the Kingdom legally in full compliance with Saudi government regulations. Once in the Kingdom, they found themselves at the mercy of legal sponsors and employers, who had the power to impose oppressive working conditions on them.

"It was like a bad dream," said one migrant worker from the Philippines while summing up his experience of working in the Kingdom. Another worker from Bangladesh told HRW that he slept many nights on the side of the road and spent many days without food. "It was a painful life. I couldn't explain that life," he said.

Saudi columnist Tariq Al-Maeena recently wrote in Arab News about a Bangladeshi named Ahmed, who worked in a French delicatessen when a Saudi businessman offered him a job with a higher salary. Ahmed agreed. He was, however, exploited. His employer refused to release him and pay his dues.

Two months ago, Arab News visited a rundown and defunct factory in Gholail district where five Pakistani mechanics live. For five years, these mechanics have not been paid their salaries and are living on temporary permits, as their iqamas have expired.

According to directive 1/111, issued by Labor Minister Ghazi Al-Gosaibi on Jan. 29, 2007, employers that have been proved to delay paying wages for more than two consecutive months are prohibited from recruiting new employees from abroad for 12 months.

The directive further states that employees, whose wages have been delayed for more than three consecutive months, have the right to file a complaint with the Labor Office to have their sponsorships transferred to other sponsors. Furthermore, in such a situation, an employee would not be bound to the one-year contract condition related to sponsorship transfer and would be absolved from obtaining a No Objection Certificate from one's current employer. In this case, the employer is responsible for paying all of an employee's dues. Once the employee's sponsorship is transferred, neither the employee nor the new sponsor is obliged to financially compensate the former sponsor.

According to Al-Gosaibi's directive, companies that do not comply with the new rules can face a fine of between SR500 and SR3,000. The fine is multiplied based on the number of workers whose rights were violated.

In Shino Lukose's case, none of these rules have been adhered to. He complained to the Indian Embassy and then filed a complaint with the Labor Office in Riyadh. The medical company that sponsors him did not show up for two court hearings - one on July 8 and the other on Aug. 5.

Arab News faxed Turki Al-Enizi, the manager of human resources at Lukose's company, a list of questions regarding Lukose's situation last week. A day after missing the second court hearing, Al-Enizi said, "Tell Lukose if he contacted you to come to me and I will solve his problem."

Lukose said that when he delivered the court summons to the company, they laughed at him and told him to "go to the king, the minister or the Labor Court."

"My case is a clear example of human rights violation. I don't know what will happen to my life and my career," said Lukose. "My family in India is worried about me. How will I make them understand?"

A Saudi relative of a non-Saudi worker whose employer refuses to release him expressed his grief over his relative's situation. "This is why so many workers, including Muslims, return to their home countries deeply aggrieved because of what they go through. Is there any way to end employers' abuse of workers rights?" he said.

The HRW's report stated that it is undeniable that many foreigners employed in the Kingdom have returned home with no complaints. But for the men and women who are and have been subjected to abysmal and exploitative working conditions, sexual violence, and human rights abuses in the criminal justice system, Saudi Arabia represents a personal nightmare.

Copyright: Arab News A[umlaut] 2003 All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Aug 10, 2008
Words:839
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