Unpaid and Stranded: The Plight of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia

06 August 2016
People stand in front of the Indian embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh on 2 August 2016. New Delhi was working to feed more than 10,000 Indian labourers stranded in the Gulf with no wages after losing their jobs, in what Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj called a food crisis.
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
People stand in front of the Indian embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh on 2 August 2016. New Delhi was working to feed more than 10,000 Indian labourers stranded in the Gulf with no wages after losing their jobs, in what Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj called a food crisis.
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Jobin George Thomas is one among the 10,000 Indian workers who have been stranded in the city since Saudi Oger Limited, a construction firm, stopped paying them their salaries. In the last week of July, it also stopped providing meals for its workers situated across five different camps due to a falling out over the catering company over non-payment.

According to the International Monetary Fund, oil-exporting countries in the Middle East have lost $390 billion in revenue due to a dip in oil prices since 2015. The IMF estimates that this amount would be as high as $500 billion by the end of the year. IMF Director for Middle East and Central Asia Masood Ahmed, said these losses translate into budget deficits and slower economic growth, particularly for countries such as Saudi Arabia that are still heavily dependent on oil to finance their spending. Struggling companies, such as Saudi Oger, have postponed the payment of salaries, hoping to ride out the economic slump.

The company’s workers, both blue and white-collar ones, hope that the company recovers from the financial crisis and pays them. However, ceasing the supply of food for workers in the different camps has abjectly worsened the situation.

On 30 July, workers from one of the company’s camps in Jeddah, the port city of Saudi, staged a protest on the streets. A protest is a rare sight in Arab countries, and it prompted the media and the countries with the most migrants in the gulf, including the Indian government, to acknowledge the situation.

The Indian mission house made arrangements for food for the protesting workers. On 1 August, Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs minister announced in parliament that stranded Indians will be evacuated. Her deputy, VK Singh, would oversee the rescue operation in person.

Rejimon Kuttappan is a senior investigator with Equidem Research and Consulting. He is currently on the board of the 2018 ILO Labour Migration Journalism Fellowship Programme and is an advisor for the Ethical Journalism Network Labour Migration Fellowship.

Keywords: Gulf countries Saudi Arabia migrant workers exploitation
COMMENT