Recruiting Racket in Saudi Arabia

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Nov 23 2010

Perhaps the most shameful examples of degradation of human beings as disposable items occur in Arabian Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia has labor laws, and perhaps penalties for non-compliance are also stated, but its clear failure or inability to implement them is deplorable.

The sale of surplus visas in the Third World is a fiddle, mere hanky-panky. Visas are handed over to recruiting agencies by the Saudi slave masters, and are sold at a price to the most desperate and downtrodden. The price for a Saudi work visa for someone in a skilled or a semiskilled category costs about $1,000. This is a substantial amount in terms of local pay, where the wage of a factory worker in Asia is two dollars a day or less. The purchase of a work visa for a husband costs a wife all of her jewelry or a father his entire life savings. Keep in mind that we are talking about families who spend their evenings under a kerosene lamp, or can hardly afford an electric bulb and where two electric bulbs is an unaffordable luxury.

About 50% of available private sector work visas are for jobs that do not exist. These visas are sold on the black market. In April 2004, the Saudi Minister for Labor, Dr Ghazi Al-Gosaibi, consented to a higher percentage of work visas being sold illegally.

Without a job description, without a salary and without terms or conditions the recruiting agent can only play foul. He starts with his false promises and his demand for the sale, knowing very well that the simpleton will be subjected to another grilling by the Saudi sponsor once he reaches Saudi Arabia. In some cases, he is handed over to another sponsor who dictates his terms of employment.

Unaware of the intricacies and the foul play, ignorant of the maneuvers of the slave lords and their cronies, the simpleton proceeds to an interview with the agent. He is kept in the dark about bogus service contacts, false promises, omissions in payment or unfair deductions.

Taking 50% of the 680,000 available private sector work visas, we have 340,000 work visas sold on the black market for an average of $1,000 each. The income derived from this can be counted in millions, a fantasy enjoyed in real life only by the privileged. Ethics, morals and conscience are all secondary. Slave trading and greed is a part of the game.
The purchase of a visa on the black market comes with a condition attached. The worker is obliged to find employment immediately upon arrival and to get his sponsorship changed to his new employer. With this transfer of sponsorship, the seller who pocketed the proceeds of the sale relinquishes all his liabilities towards the worker. Such a lucrative trade, such immediate returns, can only encourage the Saudi to do the same over and over again with an ever increasing number of visas. This lust to bag a few millions, coupled with impudence, drags him beyond the norms of civilized behavior.

The other option is that the Saudi sponsor may agree to allow the worker to work elsewhere for a “fee”. This is illegal. The sponsorship system allows the worker to work only for his sponsor, and for nobody else. One illegality leads to the other. Since the worker is supposed to work only for his sponsor and is therefore forbidden to receive payment from any other source, the third party is obliged to pay the sponsor directly for the worker’s services, bypassing the worker. The wages go into the ledger of the sponsor and the vicious circle leaves the worker at the mercy of his sponsor to collect his payment. The sponsor may pay as per his convenience or be impudent and pay a part thereof.

Employers purposely withhold salaries and other benefits due to their workers. At the time of departure when the worker is desperate, it is convenient to have him on his knees. Noticing the anxiety of the employee, the sponsor comes with his whip and unilaterally makes deductions from the worker’s accumulated dues. The candidates are kept in the dark and are not aware that the Saudi court does not recognize contracts signed by recruiting agents. Upon their arrival in the Kingdom, the Saudi slave master takes advantage of the situation and makes a U-turn. Workers find their agreement papers revoked and annulled. In fact, the worker arrives in the Kingdom with a bogus contract or even without a contract.

The worker has already invested heavily to buy a visa and to travel to Saudi Arabia. He is in a sponsorship agreement under a sponsor with whom his conditions of employment remain to be agreed. He is called upon to negotiate. The sponsor, who has already confiscated his passport, dictates the terms. The remuneration can be drastically lower than what the agent promised. The negotiations are held under threats of intimidation and deportation. Going back is a nightmare. There is no way out for the worker other than to accept.

Case Histories:

“When I came to Saudi Arabia, I borrowed 100,000 Bangladesh Takas ($2,000) to pay my recruiting agent”, said Mustapha, a Bangladeshi worker. “It has been six months since I came and I haven’t received any salary. I know how much embarrassment my wife and children will be facing.”(Arab News, 13 Aug 2003, "Employers Put Paid to Workers’ Dreams" by Saeed Haider).

“I spent 12,000 Saudi Riyals ($3,200) for my visa, including an airline ticket and about 2,000 Saudi Riyals ($530) for processing. I sold all the land and property my family owns to pay for the work visa. Now I earn only 300 Saudi Riyals a month, so it may take six years for me to repay what I owe”. He said that his family of eight relied completely on the land he sold. (Arab News 25 Jan 2006, "Low-Paid Migrant Workers Narrate Their Plight" by Abdul Hannan Faisal)

A Bangladeshi laborer added that to get a visa he had to pay 30,000 Taka (600 US Dollars) to an agent. “We had to sell our land and our wife’s jewelry and take out loans to get a visa. We were told one salary in Bangladesh and given quite another here and none of the benefits promised. All we get is 300 Riyals (80 US Dollars) per month, harassment and pain”. (Arab News, 12 Oct 2003, Article: Asian Workers Complain of Harassment by Muhammad Al-Harbi)

An Indian migrant worker interviewed by HRW in Calicut, Kerela, India in December 2003 states that he paid Rupees 60,000 (1,300 US Dollars) to a recruiting agency in Bombay. The agency told him that his monthly salary would be 1,500 Riyals (400 US Dollars) per month. The worker signed a contract in Arabic, which he could not read except for the numerals. The agency did not give him a copy of his contract, explaining that it would be sent separately to the company in Saudi Arabia. When he arrived in Saudi Arabia he was told that his salary was 1,000 Riyals (267 US Dollars) and he never received a copy of his contract.

Abdul Jabar, interviewed by HRW in Calicut, Kerela, India, states that he had to sell some of his father’s agricultural land to pay 50,000 rupees (approx 1,000 US Dollars) to the agent for a visa. The agent promised him a monthly salary of 800 Riyals. Abdul Jabar received only 270 Riyals per month. After toiling for two and a half years, he returned home.

A group of Indians were recruited in Bombay as drivers for a monthly salary of Saudi Riyals 600 (160 US Dollars) per month with free accommodation The agent charged each of them 50,000 rupees (approx 1,000 US Dollars), None of the drivers knew that they were to be taxi drivers for a limousine company. Gone was the agreed salary of 600 Riyals per month. On the contrary, each of themwas given a taxi and charged Riyals 125 per day. Without any ‘ifs, ands or buts’. Then one day, out of the blue, the sponsor sold the Company. The workers were handed over to the new company along with their passports and Iqamas but the payment of their other entitlements was held in abeyance. (Arab News, 31 Jan 2003, "Sponsor Takes 15 Taxi Drivers for a Ride" by K.S.Ramkumar)

The list could go on and on. These cases symbolize what is going on. It shows the deplorable conditions facing the most oppressed.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East