A group of Filipino migrant workers in Riyadh and Al Khobar can finally go back to work, but on terms they didn’t agree to. The seven direct employees of restauranter Mohammed Al Arfaj and Partners Co. (MAPCO), a franchisee of Rocomamas and The Crepe Cafe, say that in lieu of their contracted monthly salary, their wages are now determined as a percentage of the store’s sales.
This comes after a traumatising lockdown experience, during which the workers say they were left to fend for themselves for food and basic needs. With no income, they had to rely on overstretched community groups and the Philippines embassy for support. One worker says, “They left us depressed, hungered, mentally distressed.. our families had to send their own cash allowance given by the Philippines government just for us to buy food....”
Additionally, many of the workers do not have residency permits (iqamas), payroll accounts, or medical insurance. Without legal status, they were terrified of leaving their cramped accommodation to get help or food with the little savings they had.
The company blamed the pandemic for the delay in documentation, even though some of the workers had arrived as early as November 2019. Salary delays also began before the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. According to workers, some wages were stopped in January, and they are owed between one and two months salary.
The company had initially given them the option of remaining on unpaid leave, transferring, or exiting. Most of the workers wanted to exit, but not without their dues. They say the company has made no efforts to process their exit visas and secure their repatriation flights.
The workers filed a complaint with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development at the start of the crisis. However, ministry operation ground to a halt during the lockdown and its offices re-opened only on 21 June. But with staff at 70% capacity and a backlog of cases to deal with, the workers are still waiting for a response.
In the meantime, the company has reneged on two promises to settle their wages and due benefits; the last meeting held between the workers, HR, the Philippines embassy labour attache on 30 July bore no progress.
Several workers also say they were harassed and threatened with eviction after refusing to continue working without first being paid their past due salary. An HR representative told them, “You don’t want to work? Leave my accommodation. This is simple. Come to work or leave. That’s it. [...]You guys are not deserving to live here. Leave my accommodation now. We don’t owe you anything because you’re refusing to come to work. I need to give this accommodation to the [expletive] guys who want to work.”
Around 40 subcontracted workers say that MAPCO’s failure to pay the manpower agencies that employ them directly resulted in delayed wages for them, too. Some of them were transferred to other companies when it became clear that MAPCO would not pay, but many are still struggling to recoup their wages.
The employer’s misconduct isn’t only affecting the workers. Workers allege that the company forced them to sell expired meat products and other consumables that were not used during the closure. Though an anonymous complaint to the Ministry of Commerce was attempted, they received no response.
The workers say they felt abandoned during the lockdown, and after returning to work they have no faith that the company will follow through with their promises.
"We’ve been asking for four months for food that we need to survive. Those months during the lockdown they shut down communication with us and now they’re asking us to work, and suddenly their communication reopens? It’s not ok, it’s not enough to say sorry."
“Right now the company is doing things slowly, little by little giving us our iqama and salary… but we’ve already had enough. We have the trauma for the past three months and our psychological and moral integrity has been damaged. We don’t have the confidence and trust in the company’s management style. We’ve been asking for four months for food that we need to survive. Those months during the lockdown they shut down communication with us and now they’re asking us to work, and suddenly their communication reopens? It’s not ok, it’s not enough to say sorry. It’s really hard to have this trauma. What would have happened if we got sick during those months?”
Migrant-Rights.org attempted to contact MAPCO through the contact form on their website, and through several emails which bounced back.