The plight of a Bangladeshi accountant in Saudi Arabia exemplifies the legal and bureaucratic labyrinths that entangle migrants in protracted distress. MR previously documented Alam's troubles, which began when his employer unwarrantedly dismissed him without proper compensation. The employer also refused to return A’s passport, restricting his ability to obtain other work.
These events occurred over one year ago, but Alam is still fighting for his entitled pay. Though A was able to bring his case to the Riyadh labour office, his employer has repeatedly delayed the case by failing to attend court hearings. The prolonged inquest has incurred more costs for Alam, who, prevented from working, has been forced to borrow money and rely on friends’ donations. Unfortunately, this is a cycle that traps many migrants; migrants are required to remain residents in the country in order to pursue labour claims for the chance at remuneration. However, court-related costs are often too prohibitive, even for the few migrants who are able to obtain employment in the meantime. With little guarantee of a just outcome, migrants often cannot rationalize investments in translating services, legal fees, and other bureaucratic expenses, not to mention the loss of their valuable time. Consequently, many migrants “choose” to return home without their rightful compensation. Most origin states are unwilling to intervene in ‘employer-employee disputes,’ though some migrant-run associations have established funds to support migrants in these circumstances.
Alam’s most recent difficulties furthermore reflect the problematic implementation of the 2013 amnesty, which allowed some improperly documented workers to correct their status without penalty. Alam, along with many others, was unable to transfer his sponsorship because the cost was again too prohibitive. Two companies willing to hire A still required that he cover 50% of the transfer costs - around SR10,000-12,000 ($2,660-3200 USD). Given his unemployment status and his court fees, he could not afford these costs. Unable to legalize his status, Alam was arrested on January 6th , even though he showed police documentation of his labour court date set for January 29th. Alam was released four days later only at the advisory of the labor office, and only after paying a SR1000 ($270 USD) fine.
In sum, Alam’s troubles reflect just a subset of the many vulnerabilities migrants face under the sponsorship system. The wildly disproportionate power relations between employers and employees render it difficult for migrants to contest working conditions without ramifications. Equally skewed legal systems and apathetic bureaucracies leave many migrants with few options and even less hope for fair resolution.
If you are interested in providing financial or legal support to Alam, please contact us at [email protected]