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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena