Saudis get diplomatic pressure to pay foreign construction workers

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Saudi Arabia is being pressed to ensure foreign construction workers, many of whom have not been paid for months, receive their salaries.

The workers who flocked to the kingdom when oil prices were skyrocketing are now seen as being victimized by low oil prices as the Saudi government clamps down on state spending amid a $100 billion annual budget deficit.

Bangladeshi workers at a Saudi construction site.
Bangladeshi workers at a Saudi construction site.

The Philippines, France and Bangladesh are among the nations whose diplomats have pressured Saudi to make good on paying their workers’ salaries.

In Manila, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz told Reuters on March 7 that the Philippine embassy in Riyadh was contacting Saudi authorities to resolve the issue. “I am deploying … a fact-finding mission headed by Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad to meet with the workers, employers and competent authorities,” she said.

The French ambassador to Riyadh sent a letter to the chief executive of Saudi Oger, one of the country’s biggest construction firms with about 38,000 employees, asking him to resolve the cases of French staff who had not been paid for four months.

An executive at Oger, who declined to be named, said his company has adopted a recovery plan which will enable it to resume payments from March.

Bangladeshi diplomats said they had contacted major Saudi construction firms to discuss wages that had gone unpaid for over two months.

There are some 10 million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, largely from south Asia, southeast Asia and other parts of the Mideast. Most take low-paying jobs in sectors which Saudis spurn, such as construction, domestic service and retail.

The Saudi labor ministry, in a statement to Reuters, said all private sector companies were obliged to pay salaries on time and that it would impose sanctions against firms which were late.