For first time, Saudi, foreign workers protest unpaid wages | Greenwatch Dhaka | The leading online daily of Bangladesh

For first time, Saudi, foreign workers protest unpaid wages


TeleSUR English/September 22 – Strikes in the kingdom are rare; labor stoppages in which Saudi and foreign employees strike together even more so.
Both Saudi and foreign workers at a private hospital in Saudi Arabia–where all labor activity is banned–have banded together to protest wages that have been unpaid for more than four months.While strikes in the kingdom are rare, as penalties for such actions can be highly punitive, more notable is the fact that Saudi employees are striking alongside foreign ones.
“It’s very unusual for Saudis not to be paid,” a British doctor said. “I have been here six years and it’s the first time I have heard of it.”
“Surgeons, management, doctors, nurses, admin – Westerners, Asians, and Saudis are all taking action together. It’s actually remarkable if you consider taking photos without someone’s permission in Saudi carries a prison sentence and public shows of dissatisfaction carry a public beating and jail,” explained a Jordanian nurse.
Entering the fourth day of the labor stoppage Friday, doctors and nurses at the Saad Specialist Hospital in the eastern city of Khobar, told the Middle East Eye (MEE) they haven’t been paid since May.
The striking staff gathered Thursday in the hospital’s ostentatious clinic, where, according to one British nurse, the sparkling chandeliers that hang from the ceilings are worth more than a month’s salary for an entire ward of nurses.
“It’s a pay up or we’re not going back to work situation,” a doctor originally from the United States told the MEE. “Initially people were concerned about striking. But once they reached their breaking point they stopped caring. So far there hasn’t been any issue (with authorities over the strike).”
The Jordanian nurse said there is no one leader who has led the strike, and that they have organized through social media.
“We have organized by using groups of WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook,” she said. “All of us talked together and decided to go on strike.”
Even the hospital employees’ children staged a sit-in Wednesday, wielding signs that announced they were not able to eat or go to school because of their parents’ unpaid salaries.
The hospital is a faction of the Saad Group, owned by Saudi billionaire Maan al-Sanea.
While other multi-million companies haven’t paid their foreign, and often low-waged, workers, alleging that a gripping financial crisis that has befallen the nation is the reason why, staff at Saad Specialist Hospital say corruption is the reason for their unpaid salaries.
“They (the management) said there is a financial issue but we know there is money coming in,” the Jordanian nurse told MEE. “This hospital is one of the most expensive in the world – they take in more than one million riyals (US $266,600) a day.”
While no one from the Saad Group responded to requests for comment, the rumour mill is brimming.
“We think the owner is taking 600,000 riyals (US $160,000) a day in cash out of the hospital,” the doctor from the United States said.
A private health insurance company Bupa paid the hospital 13 million riyals (US $3.7 million) last month, but none of that money made it to staff.
“The cash just kind of disappears. Nobody is really sure why there is an issue,” the doctor said.
Eight hundred of the staff members have signed a petition calling for government intervention from King Salman.
And on Wednesday, a group of doctors and nurses that went to meet with an aide to the provincial governor Prince Saud bin Nayef received a shockingly positive response.
“Keep striking,” the prince’s aide said. “Don’t do more, don’t do less – we’re working on a solution.”
As the situation worsens, the British doctor told the MEE that the hospital has been given three options: to either fix the problem, partner with another Saudi billionaire, or have the government take over the hospital.
Since last June when staff were being paid only 50 percent of their monthly salary, housing and travel allowances have also been taken away, forcing foreign workers to move into company-owned compounds.
The conditions in the compounds are poor, the British doctor told MEE, with trash strewn about in the overgrown complexes. Women living in the compound are also unable to leave, as with no travel allowance, they can’t pay for a man to drive them, given that women in the state are not allowed to drive themselves.
Still, it’s low-waged maintenance workers – mostly from South Asian countries – who continue to suffer the most in the compounds.
“The Bangladeshi, Indian, and Pakistani workers live like prisoners,” said the British doctor. “They get by on food parcels from their embassies who also give them healthcare visits … there has been violence against the workers but authorities have consistently taken the side of the owners.”


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