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The Burden Of The Expatriate Worker: Saudi Guest Workers Not A Menace Or A Threat

11 June 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

A few days ago, a Saudi writer wrote an article titled ''Expat workers pose a danger to our country'' which appeared in this newspaper on June 3. To bolster his argument, he mentioned an incident where workers of a construction company who had been unpaid for months took out their frustration by setting fire to a few company buses. The workers had been languishing with promises of being paid for months before being told they would be sent back to their countries without their dues as the company was in financial difficulty.

The writer warned: ''We have to realize that the large number of expatriate workers in this country could really be dangerous… some of them can pose security threats to this country. In my opinion, such workers are time bombs that could go off at any minute.''

Whenever an incident concerning an expatriate worker involved in a wrongdoing is reported in the press, it is usually followed by warnings of the threat these people pose to our society. After reading many of these generalized warnings against the unskilled and semi-skilled expatriate workforce in this country, I have to ask this question: Can we really get by without their presence?

Let us take a look at some of the activities these workers are engaged in. To begin with, our municipal workers are exclusively comprised of large numbers of expatriate workers industriously engaged in keeping our roads and cities clean and our trash carted away. As our cities strain from a growing population, there is an increase in the amount of litter and garbage that has to be removed, and this is being judiciously done by guest workers.

Our booming construction industry has necessitated the need for large numbers of semi-skilled expatriate workers. Some load cement in mixers, others shovel and dig and some prepare the ground for the foundations on which structures will be erected. Many of these workers are perched precariously high on scaffolds around high rises, daily placing their lives at risk. For them, there is no safety net of comprehensive medical insurance, and working conditions often include a temperature above 40 C with a high humidity factor.

Our streets and roads are constantly being dug up to install a sewage network. Guess who is primarily involved in the actual digging and setting of the massive pipes for these projects? It certainly isn't any Saudi that I know off.

Trees get pruned and grass in public parks mowed and watered diligently by migrant workers. The waste from our septic tanks is flushed out and carted off in tankers driven primarily by men from African countries. And owing to the highly inefficient water distribution network, potable water to our homes is being delivered by tankers driven by Asians.

When we have to move around the city and use taxis or limousines, we are usually driven by expatriates. And when our personal vehicles need to be serviced or repaired, this is generally done by other expats.

As we shop for our groceries it is the Asian who bags our purchases and delivers them to our cars. And around the house, if there is a need for plumbing or electrical work, guess who is available to do the job and without much fuss? Want to install curtains or re-upholster your furniture? There are plenty of expatriates who will do the work quickly and effectively.

Our factories and other industries employ a large number of migrant workers, often resigned to pitiful living and working conditions and very low wages, but yet the job gets done without complaint. In some cases, their circumstances are an affront to the human rights defined in our religion.

Most of these tasks are being undertaken by expatriate workers because Saudis show little inclination to do them. These workers are not taking jobs away from Saudis, but instead are performing a service essential to all of us and in most cases they are doing them well.

Does the Saudi writer of the article know where we would be without expatriate workers? Let us not delude ourselves into believing that Saudis today would readily fill these posts and professions. You will never find a substantial number of Saudis queuing for such professions held by expatriate workers.

Instead of criticizing their presence, let us appreciate their contributions. Many leave homes and families behind to eke out a meager existence and save a little every month to send home. Many are subjected to deplorable living conditions, their rights violated in every form and yet they remain faithful to the task and work without protest. Theirs is a sizable burden that they are forced to bear.

They stick to themselves and are rarely intrusive and more often abused. And if there are a few miscreants among them who get into unlawful activities, are not some Saudis guilty of the same? To wholly target any group or nationality for the misdeeds of a few among them is gross injustice.

Should we not get off our high pedestals and recognize that they really are of no threat of any form to our society? The real threat lies in the lazy and sluggish attitude exhibited by some of our Saudi workforce whose
expectations of salary and benefits far exceed their abilities.

Our guest workers are not a menace or a threat, but a silent and rarely acknowledged or appreciated army of people who oil the machinery which runs the rest of us. Imagine where we would be without them? Let us show them some gratitude for a change.

— The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena
 

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