Not Paying Salaries Again

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South Asian migrant workers in Riyadh
South Asian migrant workers in Riyadh

Mahmoud Ahmad

I remember writing many articles in the past about the delay in paying salaries to employees and how many companies or employers have the habit of delaying salaries for many months. I also received many comments and emails from readers, who explained their own issues in length and how they were suffering at the hands of their companies and employers who delay salaries for many months, most of the time without a logical reason.

The pathetic condition of the employees due to the callous attitude of the companies/employers tugs at everyone’s hearts. One gets extremely sad when he/she imagines, what if it was them in their shoes? What if it was me who was not paid for many months and my mother/father back home is waiting for my financial support to buy medicine? What answer would I give to my wife back home when she is stranded with bills and school fees because I was not paid here? A man’s imagination will be taken over by dark thoughts if it was him who was not paid on time.

Just a few weeks ago, I had written an article about a list of new rules released by the Labor Ministry last October, including a fine of SR3,000 against institutions and sponsors who are delaying salaries, for both Saudis and expats. It also included a fine for forcing employees to work extra hours without overtime payment, or force them to work during official weekends and holidays. Despite the threat of the huge fine the company/sponsor would have to pay for each employee whose salary is delayed, it seems that there are companies either not comprehending the decision or simply ignoring it in the belief that it will not happen.

Soon after the release of the ministry’s new set of laws, I have been monitoring the news for stories of employees not getting paid on time and within a month came across three of them.

The first one is of maintenance and cleaning workers in Tabuk who went on strike because of late salaries. I feel extra sorry for these cleaning workers because they are hit hard all the time despite being low paid. About 300 cleaning workers in Tabuk refused to go back to work and the municipality had to intervene and convince them to return to work. According to the news, the municipality called the representative of the company and took the necessary measures to ensure that the rights of both sides are protected.

The report did mention that if the strike had continued then the people of Tabuk would have faced health risks. But nowhere was the plight of the workers, whose salary was delayed, discussed. Nor, was the pain and suffering of these workers who have families depending on them back home, talked about even if they are paid a pittance.

Another story was of security guards working at a university. These guards were not paid for three months. The poor male and female guards complained both to the Labor Ministry and to the university. The university declined responsibility saying that they were not their employees, but employed by the contracting company, who provide manpower to various companies. They took the issue to the Labor Ministry only to later complain that the ministry did not force the contracting company to pay the late salaries.

Again, what is striking is that these people have families to support and mouths to feed. Borrowing money maybe could prove to be a temporary solution, but until when? Those giving out these loans too may get tired of the constant touching for money. Some inconsiderate people may even say that they should work another job. But, do they realize, that this move will be at the expense of the employees’ health while also making them stay away more from their families.

A third story of delayed salaries was of workers in companies working in government projects. About 50 expatriate workers were on strike because they did not get paid for many months. The Labor Ministry branch in Tabuk succeeded in solving the problem by convincing them to go back to work, according to the report. The ministry then urged these companies not to delay salaries or else all their services with the ministry would be suspended. However, there was no mention of workers getting paid or of measures taken to ensure that this problem does not repeat. What good will come out of suspending a company’s account with the Labor Ministry when the worker is still unpaid?

I do not know when this law of imposing fines on offending companies will be implemented but I urge the Labor Ministry to implement it immediately. Such violating companies, after paying the fines, should be named and shamed and banned from operating or given any projects. They should be blacklisted. The fine paid should be distributed equally between the unpaid workers as a punishment for the company. Paying fines is the only thing that would discipline violators as it would pinch them where it will hurt most — their pockets. Unless these rules are implemented with diligence, they are just strong written words.

At present times when countries specify the number of days of unpaid salary needed before a fine can be imposed, Islam was quicker and just and urged all employers to pay before the sweat on the employees’ brow goes dry. We should follow the rules of Islam even before following the rules and regulations by humans.

This issue seems to be a recurrent one, and in the face of such dispassionate action by the companies/ employers, we will keep shedding light on the workers’ plight by keeping on addressing their issues, especially the matter of unpaid salaries until this problem is solved.

The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Courtesy Saudi Gazette

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