More than half a million foreign workers were reported as runaways across the Kingdom last year.RIYADH/JEDDAH: SHARIF TAHA & IRFAN MOHAMMED
More than half a million foreign workers were reported as runaways across the Kingdom last year, equivalent to 7 percent of the more than 7 million expat workers Kingdom-wide, according to statistics reported by regional labor offices.
Reports of runaway workers were most prevalent in major cities such as Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, which accounted for half of all runaway cases, a Ministry of Labor report said.
In Riyadh, 151,000 foreign workers went missing from work out of a total of 2 million workers.
Meanwhile, 40,213 cases of runaway workers were reported in Dammam out of the 558,000 foreign workers in the region.
The Labor Office in Jeddah reported 71,000 cases out of more than 1 million foreigners.
Bisha registered the second highest runaway rate, with an 11 percent average, or 5,312 cases out of 48,483 workers, compared with 10 percent in Ola, the report said.
Alkhobar also registered a 10 percent rate of absenteeism, while Abha recorded a 9 percent rate and Tabuk a more than 8 percent rate.
However, cities such as Jubail, Hail and Yanbu recorded a much lower 6 percent rate, while Makkah reported only 5.5 percent, according to the report.
Reports of runaway workers are increasing at an alarming rate despite numerous measures taken by Saudi authorities to curb the phenomenon.
Workers often end up running away as opposed to taking the legal route, which can be a cumbersome process, to solve their residency issues. Absconding workers in the Kingdom are known as “huroob.”
The Labor Ministry has introduced several measures to discourage employers from applying for new employment visas after their workers have run away.
Passport authorities are tightening procedures for deportation with a view to curbing the runaway culture, which is mainly prevalent among Asian expatriate workers in the Kingdom.
According to several Asian diplomatic sources, there was an increase in the number of runaway workers reported last year.
Many employers have falsely declared workers they no longer want as absconding, while a huge number of foreign workers escaped from their sponsors during the grace period for legalization, thinking it would be easier to leave the Kingdom.
Others say that the phenomenon is in decline compared with previous figures.
“We do not have many cases of runaway workers,” Sri Lankan Consul General Adambawa Uthumalebbe told Arab News.
A lack of awareness and access to authorities in remote areas are among the major reasons accounting for this phenomenon.
“Most illiterate workers opt to simply leave, often landing themselves in miserable situations, instead of lodging their grievances,” said one Asian diplomat who handles such cases.
“The introduction of an online system for employers to notify authorities of absconding workers has also exacerbated the problem,” said Shamsudheen Chettippadi, a social worker in the Eastern Province.
Hajira Begum, a newly arrived house nurse in the Kingdom, absconded from her employer after alleged mistreatment and has approached the Indian mission to send her back home.
“I am unaware of any system and I speak no common languages. How can I lodge a complaint?” she asked Indian officials. Begum is awaiting deportation.
A group of Filipino workers who were lodged inside the deportation center in Makkah advised fellow workers not to escape from their sponsor after telling Arab News of the difficulties they countered in leaving the deportation center.
JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR
CEOs and managing directors of multinational and national companies in Saudi Arabia are the highest paid executives among the GCC countries, but many expats in the Kingdom feel they are the lowest paid, and have been demanding pay hikes to meet the growing living expenses.
“While chief executives of global companies earn an average monthly wage of $31,615, those of local companies pocket $22,737,” the Gulf Business 2014 Salary Survey has revealed.
Salaries, however, declined from 2013 when a multinational CEO earned $33,021 while their counterparts in local firms earned $25,343 a month. All the figures are averages of Asian, Western and Arab expat salaries, the survey said. The biggest increase in salaries in the GCC was found among Arab professionals in Saudi Arabia, whose wages rose to an average of $13,042 this year, up 12.21 percent from $11,632 in 2013.
The Kingdom also saw the biggest decline in salaries of Western professionals, down from an average of $12,432 last year to $11,080 this year.
Saudi Arabia, however, maintained its position as the highest paying GCC nation for expatriates, with an average salary of $12,126, the survey said.
The planning manager of a major Saudi company, however, disputed the survey result, saying a senior executive who was receiving SR18,000 in the Kingdom moved to Bahrain when offered SR32,000.
He also pointed out that the Nitaqat system had helped some expats, especially drivers, to get better salaries. “In the past we used to get drivers for SR1,200 and now we have to pay them SR2,000,” said the manager who did not wish to be named.
He also pointed out that many foreigners, especially Indians and Filipinos, have left the Kingdom because they found the wages here no longer attractive.
Akbar Batcha, a senior business executive, emphasized the need for companies to pay reasonable salaries to employees to enhance their productivity.
“Prices of essential goods and services as well as house rents have gone up and many Saudis and expats find it difficult to manage their living expenses,” he said.
He urged the government to take effective measures to control inflation.
Hefty salaries are given to Saudi managers, considering their nationality, not their productivity, Batcha said.
“The Labor Ministry should conduct a survey of productivity of Saudis and expats and fix their salaries accordingly. This will not only benefit hardworking employees but also their companies,” he pointed out.
Cliff Single, commercial manager at BAC ME, wondered whether companies would continue to maintain current salary levels, or whether improving sentiment would translate into a more competitive market for talent.
“Our expectation is that 2014 will continue to see only gradual salary growth. However, if international and regional economic trends stay positive, we may see a tipping point in the next year with companies needing to bid up salaries as they try to attract new talent,” he said.
Among the factors expected to impact Saudi salaries this year is the Kingdom’s crackdown on illegal workers, with more than 250,000 deported in the three months to January and many hundreds of thousands more leaving on exit visas.
The resulting worker shortage is expected to lead to a significant rise in salary rates, according to experts.
“Saudi Arabia is going to rise. Last year we had said a maximum of six percent, we see that being a lot more this year,” said Ian Giulianotti, associate director HRM Consulting, Nadia.
“There is a big shortage of supply. If you go into some of the building sites now in Riyadh there are very few people around, and it’s because of all the illegal immigration.”
The 2014 Salary Survey was compiled based on inputs from four regional recruitment companies including Nadia, BAC Middle East, Adecco Middle East and Charterhouse.
TOP 10 SALARIES IN SAUDI ARABIA
(All the amounts are monthly averages taken from Asian, Western and Arab expat salaries)
1. CEO/MD, multinational– $31,615
2. CEO/MD, local company – $22,737
3. Banking, treasury manager – $15,010
4. Construction, project manager – $14,375
5. Information Technology, manager – $12,329
6. Real estate, manager – $12,305
7. Healthcare, general practitioner/ manager–$11,700
8. Banking, branch manager – $11,504
9. Legal, lawyer marketer/manager– $11,071
10. Human Resources manager – $11,012