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Timely Intervention By Saudi Leadership: The Kingdom's Commitment To Standards And Ethics

16 August 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman ordered immediate measures to address the plight of stranded workers once their situation became known. According to a statement by Minister of Labor and Social Development Mofrej Al-Haqbani, the King ''issued a series of directives with the intention of resolving all cases of unpaid salaries'' and more importantly, to ''avoid repetition of such incidents in the Kingdom's labor market in future.''

This gesture was extremely critical as it indicated the Kingdom's commitment to standards and ethics in business practices according to international norms. A series of remedial measures taken to ensure the workers' well-being was mandated by the King to ensure that they did not continue to suffer as a result of the gross negligence of their respective companies in paying them their dues. The workers whose number is in the thousands have been languishing for several months waiting for their dues so that they can provide sustenance to their loved ones back in their homeland.

I cannot in any way imagine the suffering and dark moments that these poor people went through receiving empty and unfulfilled promises day after day, only to realize that nothing of substance was coming forth. One of the guilty companies, Saudi Oger, had long benefited from the largesse of the Saudi government, accumulating billions of riyals from national infrastructure contracts. Officials from the Ministry of Labor confirmed that Saudi Oger Ltd. ''violated its contractual obligations with workers with regard to salary and accommodation. Serious lapses were found in serving food, providing health services to workers, and maintaining and cleaning accommodation.''

It was common knowledge that the company's owners and executives were living a lavish life with cars and beach homes within the country and vacation homes elsewhere. These were the very people whose policies had led to the withholding of workers' dues. Quick math tells me that the perks enjoyed by just one of the higher paid executives could have taken care of the monthly salaries of more than 270 workers!

I say that because someone posted on social media the monthly salaries and benefits of the executives of another construction giant which recently failed to pay its workers and the figures are nothing short of being obscene. Five Arab nationals who are not in any way owners of the company were receiving in excess of SR 2.5 million including perks while the company's workers were left to starve. This is simply unimaginable.

The question that often arises is why is it that the little guys have to suffer while the owners and executives enjoy the loot. Some may answer that this is the way of life everywhere and that the big sharks gorge themselves while the little fish watch and starve. Bullpucky, I say!

While the government is in the process of executing the King's orders to correct the plight of the stranded workers in the most humane manner, the owners and executives of these errant companies must be brought to justice for the misery that they have created through their own greed. Skimming the cream from the top, they left nothing for the workers who were doing the job, and then they resorted to blaming the government for nonpayment of dues. So confident am I of my assumption that I challenge any of these greedy people to report a negative balance bank account. Many have been spiriting away their ill-gotten wealth outside the country for quite some time, but justice must be served.

Their assets must be seized immediately and used to compensate the government for the restitution of the workers. Such an action will send a signal across the land that the Saudi government is not going to put up with unjust and unethical acts that inflict human misery on our lowly paid guest workers.

They have suffered enough and someone has to be held accountable for the despair they have had to endure.

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


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