By Courtney Trenwith
The kingdom’s minimal rights for foreign workers forces many to runaway rather than deal with disputes through legal channels
More than half-a-million foreign workers fled their employers in Saudi Arabia last year, according to the Ministry of Labour.
The expats, mostly low-paid workers such as maids, drivers and labourers, were reported as runaways by their employers.
Disputes between employers and employees are common in the kingdom, where expats make up about one-third of the entire population of 28 million and workers have few rights compared to international standards.
Several labour exporting nations, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, have at times banned their citizens from working in the kingdom over disputes relating to workers’ rights.
The latest statistics show 151,000 foreign workers fled their employers in the capital Riyadh, where about 2m expats are hired.
More than 40,000 runaways were reported in Damman, while Jeddah, which employs more than 1m expats, saw 71,000 cases.
Foreigners are known to runaway from their employers because of the kingdom’s lack of legal rights for workers with disputes. Employees also must have their employer’s permission before changing jobs or leaving the country.
The regulations also have seen some employers falsely declare workers they no longer want as absconding.
The Labour Ministry has introduced measures to encourage employers to resolve conflicts by making it difficult for them to apply for new employment visas after their workers have run away.
More than 1 million expats left Saudi Arabia last year during a seven-month amnesty on illegal workers.
Tens of thousands also were deported after raids following the end of the amnesty.