Saturday, August 13, 2016

It's a Rainy Day in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ... but no Rainy Day Fund

"They don't give us any answers about our salaries."
"After they pay me my salary and benefits, I will go."
Mohammed Salahaldeen, Bangladeshi duct fabricator, Riyadh labour camp

"I already resigned from the company [Saudi Oger]. I am only waiting for my benefits. My end-of-service benefit is 45,000 riyals."
"If I don't take that back to Pakistan, I will have nothing."
Shahid Iqbal, 39-year-old Pakistani worker for Saudi company
Labourers work at the construction site of Riyadh Metro, Saudi Arabia December 21, 2015. Picture taken December 21, 2015. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Mr. Iqbal was forced to borrow money so his wife back in Pakistan could give birth. He then borrowed additional funds to enable him to make ends meet, over the eight month period for which this man who has worked almost 20 years for the same Saudi company, still awaits the pay owing to him.

The index in Saudi Arabia for building and construction has dropped 37 percent in the past year. Saudi Arabia, that fabulously wealthy oil kingdom, is in dire financial straits. How they will manage to continue paying for the war they're leading against the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen is anyone's guess. And presumably, they've made all the investments they meant to in building madrassas all over the world to induct young Muslims into Wahhabist Islamism.

At the present time there are tens of thousands of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia who come from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines to work and to send most of their earnings back to their countries of origin, to support their indigent families. Months ago there was a mass firing when 50,000 foreign workers were dismissed.

They now live in the labour camps, awaiting their pay so they can return home, having been dismissed from employment.

It is up to their employers to provide exit visas, not the Saudi Labour Ministry. And until and when the workers receive their pay so long overdue, exit visas may not be provided. This is one of those original 'catch-22' situations of impossible gravity and misery. Though the Saudi government has pledged to resolve these problems, they linger.

And those thousands of workers wait, for there is little else they can do. They wait in fetid, cramped barracks, sleeping eight to a tiny concrete room, sharing filthy toilets with feral cats in temperatures that soar to 50 c. The destitution of the labourers can be juidged in their garb, for they own only one set of clothing.

"They can't go to a hospital because they no longer have insurance. They have no money", explained Mohammed Khan, an Indian nurse looking after workers at the Oger camp, treating people with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, sans medication. In 2014, Saudi Arabia was the world's second largest source of workers' remittances.

The Saudi government had barred temporarily the BinLadin Group from new contracts owing to one of its cranes collapsing in Mecca directly onto its largest mosque, where over 100 people were killed in the catastrophe. At a camp which was the original home of the Al Saud royal family, the company no longer provided food at the canteen for workers.

Indian national Nasser Abdul Manaf had to take his children out of school, no longer able to afford to educate them. Six months late on his family's rental apartment, the owner of the building is threatening to repossess his apartment, and the prospects for the family look dim, in Hyderabad, India. "They have nowhere to go. They will have to move onto the streets", said the 46-year-old father.

Saudi authorities have slashed state spending and in the process have delayed payment to contractors, in a reflection of the drop in oil prices. Private businesses long accustomed to relying on government spending to fuel their industrial growth, have nowhere to turn. The abandoned labourers haven't been paid in eight months.

The Saudi government awarded no contracts in the past three quarters, so construction contracts shrank by 65 percent from the same period a year ago. And abroad, Saudi princelings race through the streets of London, England, with their Lamborghinis, and buy up costly properties, living the life they have become accustomed to.

£1million road block: This fleet of five supercars caused major problems for drivers after they were left in the middle of a road in central Birmingham
£1million road block: This fleet of five supercars caused major problems for drivers after they were left in the middle of a road in central Birmingham

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