Last October, the Saudi Ministry of Labor announced a set of new penalties that “aim to improve the status of workers’ rights.” These penalties are mostly fines that will benefit the labor ministry, rather than compensate workers. Major violations, such as human trafficking, would be punished with imprisonment – though historically, few punishments against nationals are actually enforced. Most trafficking cases that have made it to Saudi courts are limited to forced sex work, excluding the much more prevalent forms of trafficking such as recruitment under duress, contract substitution, and forced labour. Last year, one national and nine foreigners were sentenced to 10 years in jail on trafficking charges for forcing undocumented domestic workers to perform sex work, according to the testimonies of 19 victims. The new fines might positively impact migrant worker conditions, but remain a rather limited punitive measure, rather than a preventative initiative.
- In cases of passport confiscation or unpaid wages, employers will be fined SR 2000 (530$).
- When workers are forced to perform tasks not mentioned in the contracts or made to pay for expenses, employers would pay a fine of SR 15,000 .
- Failure to provide workers with copies of their contracts carries a fine of SR 5,000.
- Forcing workers to perform in bad weather or unsafe environment carries a fine of up to SR 25,000.
- Companies could be fined SR 50,000 for selling visas to migrants and SR 45,000 for employing a migrant without a license.
- Unlicensed recruitment offices will be fined between SR 10,000 and SR 20,000
- In “proven” cases of malicious absconding reports, employers will be fined SR 5000.
These fines will be a new source of profit for the labor ministry but not for workers. Redressal mechanisms for exploited workers is not clear; neither is the compensation they would receive. In the absence of monitoring measures over large sectors of labor such as domestic workers, service sector and small businesses. The ministry offers little real access for workers to report such violations; an online portal Musaned was recently launched to inform workers and employers aboutbut of their mutual rights, but it suffers from critical limitations: the site is currently only available in English and Arabic, neither of which are the predominant language of domestic workers; workers are unlikely to be aware of the sites existence, and those that are may have restricted access to the internet in the first place. The site’s instructions for filing complaints is also unclear, and not reasonably accessible to domestic workers who do not have access to legal aide or translators to fill out documentation. Saudi authorities have yet to introduce sufficient and accessible channels for workers to submit complaints that would be acted upon in a timely manner without penalizing workers or terminating their legal status. Consequently many workers endure exploitation, rightly fearful of risking their employment and facing deportation.
Some changes by the Ministry of Labor bring a basic template for contracts that would include employer’s information, workers’ information, place of residence, salary, duration of contract, and any other “agreed upon benefits and compensations.”
Moreover, employers will be allowed extra 180 days for “trial period” of workers. Employers will also be required to get workers’ written permission before transferring their residency to a new sponsor.
In the cases of terminating work contracts, employers will be “responsible for workers until end of contract” except if they present “legitimate reasons” which are unspecified. If termination reason is not legitimate, employer will compensate the worker what is equivalent of 15 days of labor for each year they have served at that job.
Workers with terminated jobs are entitled to one paid day of the week outside their workplace to look for a new job, or the equivalent of 8 hours a week.