Crackdown cripples life


JEDDAH/RIYADH – Residents and citizens woke up on Tuesday to a day crippled by a lack of necessary services as illegal expat workers, who failed to rectify their status, stayed indoors for fear of being arrested.

Streets were less crowded where taxi drivers charged exorbitant fares, markets wore a deserted look, many commercial establishments and hospitals reported no-shows, shutters were down on many grocery stores and eateries, street vendors were no where to be seen. Customers were forced to fill grocery bags themselves at super market counters in the absence of expat workers who did this job.

desert1A Saudi national in Jeddah summed up the scenario: “It seems that the country was full of violators. Shops are closed, streets are empty, restaurants are empty. I counted 30 cell phone shops on one street closed. God help us! Where are the citizens?”

In Jazan, a number of Saudis said that they had to go to their workplaces, wearing un-ironed thobe and headgear (shemagh) as most of the laundries remained closed. “There was no way for me to wear a washed and ironed thobe and shemagh as I saw doors of the laundry where I deposited my clothes closed without any notice,” said Muhammad Qassem. Even the dead had to suffer.

About 13 facilities for washing dead bodies were shut down in Jeddah due to the absence of workers. Those who wash dead bodies at these facilities are part-time workers who are scared of inspection raids.

Muhammad Fauzy Maulavi, director of the charity project for washing dead bodies, said that those who wash dead bodies are either drivers or have some administrative jobs listed as their profession. As a result of the closure of the facilities, many people started taking dead bodies to Makkah for washing.

About 60 percent of commercial shops, workshops, fruit and vegetable stalls in Jazan and other cities and towns in the region were closed. There have been increased business activities at the eateries in the region due to the closure of more than 40 percent of restaurants and boofias. “I had to wait more than four hours in front of a restaurant to get lunch from a restaurant where I saw unprecedented rush of customers,” said Abdurahman Nasheeli.

Jabir Kharmi, another citizen, said that he was forced to eat lunch from a fast-food outlet due to the closure of a traditional restaurant where he frequented to have his meal.

Meanwhile, crackdown on illegal expatriates continued throughout the Kingdom on the second day on Tuesday following the end of the amnesty period. More than 5,000 illegals were arrested on the first day. They included 3,607 in Jazan, about 2,000 in Jeddah and 1,159 in Asir region.

Lt. Col. Abdullah Al-Shaathan, spokesman of Asir police, said that the arrested expatriates included 461 people without a valid residency permit (iqama), and another 119 who were found working in violation of the labor law. Three Saudis were also arrested for providing transportation to illegals. A total of 201 illegals were arrested in Hail.

Several illegals from the Asian and Arab countries gathered at their consulates in Jeddah on the first two days of the post-amnesty period, seeking completion of the procedures to rectify their labor and residency status. They complained that even though they had registered their names at their missions, the procedures for correction or securing a final exit stamp have not been finalized at the Passports Department.

Some consulates urged the department to expedite the paperwork. Ali Al-Ayashi, Consul General of Yemen, demanded the department to complete the correction procedures of thousands of Yemenis whose names were registered at the consulate well before the end of the amnesty period.

The Border Guards in Jazan arrested more than 8,000 foreigners belonging to various nationalities who tried to leave the Kingdom illegally within the first 24 hours of the post amnesty period.

Brig. Gen. Abdullah Mahfouz, spokesman of the Guards in Jazan region, said that more than 3,000 of them were deported after getting finger-printed while the remaining illegals are under the process of finger-printing. “It was revealed that a number of these illegals are in the wanted list of security authorities for various crimes and hence, they will be transferred to the concerned authorities for follow up penal action,” he said.



“sui generis” In Reply to the Two Other Objections on the OFW Bank


Among history’s greats Leonardo da Vinci is often considered  “sui generis” —a man of such stupendous genius that the world may never see his like again.- Merriam Webster   

The below post serves as reply to the last two objections raised by Bangko Sentral and the Department  of Finance on the OFW bank as pushed by Vice-Pres. Binay. 

This post authored by Romie Cahucom serves as sequel to his earlier post, “Remittance Is Not the Enemy, Economic Reintegration of Returning OFWs Is which was also featured in this blog.

This is an issue that is of paramount concern and importance to all OFWs. 


In Reply to the Two Other Objections on the OFW Bank 

This post serves to answer the two other objections raised by the government regulators on the formation of an OFW bank which has been pushed by Vice-President Jejomar Binay since late 2010. 

To refresh our minds, the government regulators objected to formation of an OFW bank, citing issues of “cost, redundancy, administrative and regulatory unwieldiness, and sending signals that discourage private sector competition which, they claimed, already benefits OFWs by way of driving down transaction costs.” 

We took up the first two objections in a previous article entitled, “Remittance Is Not the Enemy, Economic Reintegration of Returning OFWs Is.” 

Now we take up the last two objections. 

The Issue of Administrative and Regulatory Unwieldiness

Frankly, I find it difficult to figure out how the issue of administrative and regulatory unwieldiness comes in. Continue reading

Sponsorship system open to widespread abuse



The Saudi system of sponsorship, or kafala, is still a topic of heated debate as the unjustified extortion of expatriate employees by their sponsors continues.

The sponsorship system supposedly organizes work contracts, salary, visas, vacation and repatriation.

Overseas Filipino Workers at Construction Site (Photo from Al Arabiya News)

However, there have been many instances of sponsors exploiting and mistreating workers under them by various means. A sponsor might take an employee’s passport and iqama (residence permit) or refuse to pay the wage on time. Instead of providing jobs to expatriate workers under them, some sponsors ask them to find work elsewhere and force them to pay a monthly fee. All these are unlawful in Saudi Arabia, but expatriate workers do not complain to the authorities fearing further mistreatment and deportation.

Statistics issued by the Ministry of Labor confirm that about 9 million expatriates currently live and work in the Kingdom. Many of those expatriates are victims of extortion by their sponsors.

The National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia issued a study to organize the rights of sponsors and workers. The study was issued two years ago but its recommendations remain unimplemented, said Mufleh Al-Qahtani, the NSHR chairman. “Changing the word ‘kafala’ to ‘work contract’ has been applied, but that doesn’t change the way sponsors treat their employees,” he said. “We want to create a governmental body or organization that would manage all the conditions and affairs of expatriates. It would cancel the traditional role of the sponsor and ensure all rights are respected.”  read more>>>>>>> 

Sponsors should have a sense of humanity and a fear of God. “Such feelings would make the relationship more safe and fruitful, then the worker would have no reason to escape. I hope officials will revise our system and try to make it more fair” .  – Ibrahim Natto (Former dean of Student Affairs at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran)

Labor disputes and unreasonable delay



One of the aims of enacting labor laws is to protect the rights of employees from any abuse of their employers. Additionally, forming a robust system to resolve disputes is a cornerstone to protecting the rights of employees. However, having a fragile system to resolve disputes may, in actual fact, hinder protecting the rights of employees.

3,000 workers demanding their rights (click image)

Saudi Arabia has endeavored to protect the rights of employees as well as employers. The new Labor Law of Saudi Arabia, which was issued by the Royal Decree No. M/51 dated Sept. 27, 2005, was enacted to regulate labor matters as well as disputes. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia has a serious dilemma with respect to resolving labor disputes in a timely manner. As such, disputes may take up to two years or more to be resolved for no justified reasons.

In most cases, the dispute process initially commences by an employee filing a complaint before the labor office. The labor office then attempts to resolve the dispute amicably between both parties. However, in the event of an unreachable agreement, the dispute will then be referred by the labor office to the Preliminary Commission for Settlement of Labor Disputes. When the Preliminary Commission issues its decision, it is deemed preliminary and not final in most of the cases and may be appealed before the High Commission for Settlement of Labor Disputes by one or both parties within thirty days from the date of utterance of the decision issued in the presence of the parties or from the date of notification of the decision in other cases.

However, if the decision of the Preliminary Commission is not appealed by one or both parties within the aforesaid period, the decision is considered final and enforceable. Nonetheless, if the decision of the Preliminary Commission is appealed before the High Commission, then the High Commission will only review the part(s) of the decision that one or both parties are appealing and issue its decision accordingly.

The duration of the above process could take up to two years or more; which equates to an absolute nightmare for employees, in particular expatriates.

To read more >>>>>>>>  

Policing the religious police in Saudi Arabia

Recently, the Saudi government appointed a new president for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who is known to be a more open-minded and progressive thinker.

However, the problem is not so much with the individuals on the commission but with the institution itself and how it operates.

For example, its executive bylaws in many respects are vague and have allowed some of its members to violate basic human rights, including in some cases the physical and verbal abuse of Saudi citizens.

Unfortunately, the commission’s executive bylaws outlined its powers and functions in only a general way, allowing too much license in how its mission was to be achieved.

As a result, this has led to the violations that are committed by the commission’s members. Indeed, the commission seems to exercise its power in excess of proper limitations and in violation of individual freedom. But let me be clear: I am not talking about the ritual of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stated in the Qur’an which must be respected and followed by all Muslims, but about the unacceptable activities of the commission’s members.

Those acting on behalf of the commission have repeatedly shown that they do not respect the people’s right of privacy, and they engage in practices that are objectionable such as chasing and assaulting people and forcing segregation between men and women.   read more>>>>>

A legitimate concern of Saudization

 “Back in the eighties the growing infrastructure of this country and the challenges we faced was of such magnitude that we all pitched in to put forth a quality service product. In the early nineties, things started to change. The expatriates were gradually replaced with Saudis, some from within and some who were appointed from outside the company. And it was then that the seeds of incompetence were sown.”

SAMIR, a Saudi, has been working with a national civil organization that serves a large sector of the population Kingdomwide.

A chance encounter with this long time acquaintance last week brought forth revelations about the inner workings of this government organization whose primary mandate is to serve the public.

Samir is retiring soon. And he is visibly relieved and elated. After 32 years of service in that particular company, he is counting the remaining days until he bids a final farewell to an organization to which he has given his all. During our talks, I wondered whether there were any slight misgivings among all that joy.

“Oh yes, Tariq, there have been many, but they are no longer my concern. I am leaving and let those who remain attempt to sort out the mess we have become. I can no longer fight against an immovable brick wall of incompetence and that I have had to put up for many years.”


When asked to elaborate, Samir continued, “I joined this organization when it was vibrant and dynamic. Primarily foreigners who in the capacity of advisers were not hesitant to recognize local talent and allow it to develop and flourish steered this company. If you were good, you stood out and moved forward. And if you were not, then you were quickly shown the proverbial door.

 “Back in the eighties the growing infrastructure of this country and the challenges we faced was of such magnitude that we all pitched in to put forth a quality service product. In the early nineties, things started to change. The expatriates were gradually replaced with Saudis, some from within and some who were appointed from outside the company. And it was then that the seeds of incompetence were sown.”

To read more>>>> 

Note:  The author Mr. Tariq Al-Maeena is an independent columnist of Arab News and western-educated Saudi. He has been actively involved in people, production and logistics for more than 30 years both in the USA and in Saudi Arabia.  He is an experienced professional with a proven track record of turning around a failing venture into a productive and profitable enterprise through constructive team-work and worker participation. He was also the author of  Arab News article titled  “When the Color is Red“.

Saudi to limit work permits to help locals

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will not renew the work permits of foreign workers  who have spent six years in the country as part of its plan to create jobs for nationals, its labour minister was quoted as saying on Monday.”The current situation calls for strong cooperation between the government and private sector in solving the problem of unemployment with hundreds of thousands looking for work,” Adil Fakieh was quoted as saying by the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

Let's put the "Saudi" in Saudization

Fakieh did not say when the decision would be implemented or whether it would be applied to all foreign workers or to specific jobs.

Unemployment among nationals in the kingdom, which sits on more than a fifth of global oil reserves and is the world’s biggest oil exporter, is currently 10.5 percent, he said, adding that 28 percent of the unemployed were women and 40 percent high school graduates.

Fakieh said there were currently eight million foreign workers in the kingdom of whom six million work in the private sector. Remittances from foreign workers total 100 billion riyals ($27 billion) a year, he said.

Saudi Arabia does not regularly publish data on unemployment, a sensitive issue since it highlights fissures in wealth distribution in the absolute monarchy with no elected parliament, where newspapers tend to carry the official line.

King Abdullah offered Saudis $93 billion in handouts in March to stave off unrest of the kind rocking other parts of the Arab world. This followed a $37 billion package announced in February in an initial move to ease social tensions.

Despite its wealth, unemployment in the Gulf Arab state has risen as an outdated school system focused on religion and the Arabic language produces graduates who have difficulty finding jobs with private firms.

Companies favour workers from Asia, prepared to work long hours for low salaries, or well-paid foreign experts.

Many Saudis work in the public sector but, in contrast to other Gulf oil producers such as Kuwait, citizens do not automatically get a job because of the rapidly rising population, which now stands at almost 19 million.

In 1994 the government began a “Saudisation” plan, setting quotas for the number of nationals private firms must hire. The programme failed to achieve a significant increase in the participation of nationals in the private sector, where Saudis still account for only 10 percent of employees.

Almost 70 percent of Saudis are under the age of 30, and the population is increasing by around 2.4 percent annually.

In an attempt to create thousands of new jobs and diversify its oil-dominated economy, Saudi Arabia launched a $400 billion five-year spending plan in 2008, the largest stimulus relative to gross domestic product among the world’s 20 leading nations.  (Reporting by Jason Benham, editing by Tim Pearce: REUTERS/ May 30, 2011 at 14:02 )

Remittance power of Overseas Filipinos to drive community development

Unlad Kabayan, a migrant worker NGO, is one of the beneficiaries of Remit4Change.

Innovation to Spur Remittance-driven Development thru Corporate Social Responsibility

A new programme, called Remit4changewas launched last week by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) in partnership with the Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research & Action (TIGRA), a California-based non-governmental organization. The program promotes an enabling environment for the collective remittance practices of Filipino overseas to boost local economic development.“With this programme, we aim to develop an innovative grassroots model of migrant-centered and driven development that truly embodies President Aquino’s Public-Private Partnership strategy for national economic development,” commented Sec. Imelda Nicolas of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. “We have partnered with TIGRA to adopt and adapt its Remit4change program which will generate funding for community-based projects through principles and practices of corporate social responsibility in the money transfer industry.”

Francis Calpotura, TIGRA Executive Director said: “Every time our kababayans use a US-based money transfer company accredited by TIGRA, that company will contribute $1 to a community development project of the remitter’s choice. The remitter selects from a list of projects aimed to improve the lives of migrant families.” According to TIGRA’s estimates, in 2010 alone, Filipinos overseas transacted more than 50 million money transfers from more than 120 countries.

“We launched Remit4Change for Latin America last year, and we’re ready to replicate the program in the Philippines this year. Our partnership with CFO is a historic step in making migration an option and not a necessity for economic survival for millions of Filipinos,” added Calpotura.

“We strongly support and campaign for Remit4Change which highlights the vital role of migrants in generating corporate community reinvestments as a viable and practical model that benefits migrant communities,” commented Melanie Valenciano, Program Officer at Unlad Kabayan, a Remit4change beneficiary and the lead Philippine-based, migrant worker NGO that collaborates with TIGRA in implementing the program. “Furthermore, Remit4Change also reinforces the broader need for lower, fairer, and more transparent remittance fee-pricing that will democratize the industry.” read more>>>>