The monthly minimum wage for public sector employees was 3,000 riyals ($800). There was no private sector minimum wage for foreign workers; however, the government’s Nitaqaat (Saudization) program set a general minimum wage for citizens at 3,000 riyals per month. The law does not provide for equal pay for equal work.
The Commission for the Settlement of Labor Disputes actively prosecuted cases against employers of citizens, with most cases favoring the employee. Prosecution of employers of noncitizens occurred with less frequency, and most verdicts reportedly favored the employer. Labor regulations ostensibly apply to all workers in the public and private sector other than domestic servants, provide for a 48-hour standard workweek at regular pay, a weekly 24-hour rest period (normally on Fridays, although the employer may grant it on another day), and time-and-a-half pay for overtime, with a maximum of 12 additional hours per week. However, the law’s provisions were not enforced.
In April the Ministry of Labor announced the creation of 1,000 additional labor inspector positions to investigate labor law violations; however, it was unclear how many of these individuals had been hired by year’s end. The law penalizes individuals between 500 riyals ($133) and 1,000 riyals ($267) for bringing foreigners into the country to work in any service, including domestic service, without following the required procedures and obtaining a permit.
The labor law provides for regular safety inspections and enables Ministry of Labor-appointed inspectors to examine materials used or handled in industrial and other operations and to submit samples of suspected hazardous materials or substances to government laboratories. The Ministry of Health’s Occupational Health Service Directorate works with the Labor Ministry on health and safety matters. Regulations require employers to protect some workers from job-related hazards and disease, although some violations occurred. These regulations did not cover farmers, herdsmen, domestic servants, or workers in family-operated businesses. Foreign nationals privately reported frequent failures to enforce health and safety standards.
Labor regulations provide for a maximum of 12 additional hours of overtime per week. This regulation does not distinguish between different types of employment.
The law requires foreign workers be sponsored by a citizen or business to obtain legal work and residency status. The law does not permit some noncitizens to change their workplace without their sponsor’s permission. This forces these workers to remain with the sponsor until fulfillment of the contract or seek the assistance of their embassy to return home. Sponsors with commercial or labor disputes with foreign employees could also ask authorities to prohibit the employees from departing the country until the dispute was resolved. However, under Nitaqaat the sponsorship of foreign workers working at companies not meeting specific goals for employing citizens as a percent of their workforce lapses, and these workers may transfer their sponsorship to a new firm without having to leave the country, seek permission from their original sponsor, or apply for a new visa.
The Ministry of Labor’s Migrant Workers’ Welfare Department is responsible for addressing cases of abuse and exploitation among migrant workers. Noncitizen workers were able to submit complaints and seek help from the 37 offices throughout the country, although the government was generally unresponsive. The Ministry of Labor reportedly maintained a database of abusive employers and occasionally banned individuals and companies who mistreated noncitizen workers from sponsoring such workers for up to five years; however, the ministry did not provide any examples of employers banned during the year.
Bilateral labor agreements set conditions on foreign workers’ minimum wage; housing; benefits including leave, medical care; and other topics. These provisions were not necessarily drafted with reference to international standards, and they varied depending on the sending country’s relative bargaining leverage. The Labor Law and the Anti-Trafficking Law provide penalties for abuse of such workers.
During 2011 both Indonesia and the Philippines banned new domestic workers from working in the country while they sought improved contract terms for their citizens. The Philippines also requested that prospective employers provide bank statements. At year’s end the Indonesian ban remained in place. However, in October the Saudi and Philippine governments concluded a bilateral work agreement, and Philippine officials lifted the ban, allowing Philippine domestic workers to deploy to the kingdom for the first time since June 2011. As part of the agreement, the government agreed to enforce a minimum wage of 1,500 riyals ($400 per month) and again committed to prevent contract substitution and the seizure of workers’ passports.
In August 2011 the Ministry of Labor mandated the establishment of fewer and larger expatriate labor recruitment firms, ostensibly better to protect migrant workers, including domestic workers. At the end of the year, 13 unified recruitment firms were registered.
The government engaged in a news campaign highlighting the plight of abused workers, trained law enforcement and other officials on combating trafficking in persons, and worked with the embassies of labor-sending countries to disseminate information about labor rights to foreign workers. During Ramadan the HRC broadcast a public awareness program on television emphasizing the Islamic injunction to treat employees well.
An estimated 8.4 million noncitizen workers, including approximately 1.5 million female domestic employees, made up the majority of the country’s labor force. There were also an estimated five million illegal residents in the country, most of whom were thought to be workers. Legal workers generally negotiated and agreed to conditions prior to arrival in the country, in accordance with the contract requirements contained in the labor law; nevertheless, many found themselves subjected to different conditions, such as delays in payment of wages, changes in employer, or changed working hours and conditions. Migrant workers, especially domestic workers, were vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and conditions contravening labor laws, including nonpayment of wages, working for periods in excess of the 48-hour week, working for periods longer than the prescribed eight-hour workday, and restrictions on movement due to passport confiscation. There were also reports of physical and verbal abuse.
On November 25, a Saudi man was arrested after he clubbed his maid to death in his home in Jeddah. At year’s end there was no further information on the case.
According to a June 2011 Arab News article, local authorities in the southern province of Jizan discovered a 45-year-old Sri Lankan maid, Indrani Mallika Hettiarachchi, who had been kept against her will without pay for nearly 14 years by her employer; authorities subsequently arrested the employer. There was no further information during the year.
Many noncitizen workers, particularly domestic employees, were not able to exercise their right to remove themselves from dangerous situations. Some employers physically prevented workers from leaving or threatened them with nonpayment of wages if they left. Sponsoring employers, who controlled foreign workers’ ability to remain employed and in the country, usually held foreign workers’ passports, a practice prohibited by law. In some contract disputes, a sponsor held the employee in country until the dispute was resolved to force the employee to accept a disadvantageous settlement or risk deportation without any settlement.
Foreign workers could contact the labor offices of their embassies for assistance. During the year hundreds of domestic workers sought shelter at their embassies, some fleeing sexual abuse or other violence. Some embassies maintained safe houses for citizens fleeing situations that amounted to bondage. The workers usually sought legal help from embassies and government agencies to obtain end of service benefits and exit visas.
In addition to their embassies, domestic employees may contact the NSHR; the HRC; the governmental Permanent Committee to Combat Human Trafficking; and the Ministry of Labor’s Migrant Workers’ Welfare Department, which provided services to safeguard migrant workers’ rights and to protect them from abuse. Workers may also apply to the offices of regional governors and may lodge an appeal with the Board of Grievances against decisions from those authorities.