Workers tell, they haven’t been paid in months and that a humanitarian crisis is developing amid the summer heat.Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia have been left stranded and destitute after not being paid for months by companies who say they have no money, Middle East Eye can reveal.
Several Pakistanis living in cities across the oil-rich kingdom told MEE that employers have not paid tens of thousands of foreign workers for months, and that the situation is becoming increasingly desperate.
Dawlat Khan, 40, from the Swat district of north Pakistan, said he has not been paid his monthly 7,500 SAR ($2,000) salary for eight months.
He has worked for eight years as a health and safety officer for construction giant Saudi Oger – one of the kingdom’s largest private companies, which owes employees $800m in pay.
Saudi Arabia posted a record $98bn budget deficit in 2015, mainly due to falling oil prices. Many of the kingdom’s construction projects have been suspended or cancelled as a knock-on effect.
Khan, who lives in the port city of Jeddah, says he is one of 50,000 Saudi Oger employees who have not been paid since last summer.
He lives in a work camp where his rent is the equivalent of $133 a month. But after eight months without pay, has now relies on friends for accommodation and food costs.
Crucially, as with many foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, Khan sends most of his monthly earnings back to Pakistan, which provides critical financial support for his wife and five children.
With no money coming in Khan says his family are suffering and that his wife has had to sell all her jewellery so their eldest son can go to university this year.
“But there is nothing left for my other children to sell,” he told MEE. “My wife and children are suffering now – I don’t know what we are going to do.”
In July the State Bank of Pakistan stated that Saudi Arabia was the largest source of foreign remittance payments for the country, and were worth more than $19.9bn in the 2015-16 financial year.
More than 1.6 million Pakistanis travelled to Saudi Arabia for work between 2011 and 2015.
“I came to Saudi to give my children a better chance in life,” said Khan. “Before everything was good but now I’m not getting paid and my life has turned into a nightmare.”
Not only is Khan now penniless, he is also trapped in Saudi Arabia, as he cannot leave without raising enough money for a flight home – and he doesn’t want to leave without being paid for work done.
“We can’t leave the country,” he said. “We have no money for tickets and we are waiting for our money. If I get my money I will leave this country and I will go to Canada or America.”
Vani Saraswathi, from the campaigning organisation told that foreign workers across the Arab Gulf States often face employment problems but that the toughest to resolve are in Saudi Arabia.
“There is absolutely no civil society space. The country is so large, a lot of the problems occur away from the main cities. So workers find it difficult to access even the consuls or missions,” she said.
“The lack of legal aid in all of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) is a huge issue, and particularly so in a place like Saudi Arabia.
“Providing food and helping with repatriation is seen as a resolution. But most of these workers would have paid heavy recruitment fees – and borrowed to do so – so going back without their dues is far from a resolution. It’s just deferring their angst from one country to another.”