RIYADH, 24 April 2006 — The new Saudi labor law, which went into effect yesterday, has been welcomed by expatriates as it protects their rights and obliges the employer to bear all the expenses from the time of recruitment to his tenure under the sponsorship of the employer, such as payment of iqama and work permit fees and their renewal.
Speaking from Jeddah, legal adviser Muhammad Jaber Nader said there have been several changes to the terms of a non-Saudi’s contract in the new labor law. He quoted Article 39 which stipulates that “a contract with a non-Saudi must be written and have a specified period. If a contract does not mention its period, the period of his work permit shall be considered the period of the contract.” What it means in practical terms is that it entitles a non-Saudi to receive the full end-of-service benefit (ESB).
One of the major problems facing expatriate employees is that of contract substitution whereby the new recruit has to sign a new contract whose terms and conditions are different from those that he had signed originally in his home country. Nader said: “This is a case of cheating.”
He clarified that the new law does not address this issue, since the expatriate is not supposed to sign a fresh contract when he has already signed it once.
A distinctive feature of the new law is its provision for a second labor court. Such a move could make a dent into the backlog of cases, some of which have been dragging on for three years or more with no end in sight.
The upgrading of judicial committees to judicial commissions is expected to address some of these concerns.
However, a welcome aspect of the labor law is that it makes the employer responsible for the payment of fees in the case of a change of sponsorship and also fees for changing the profession, exit/re-entry visa fee, etc. He is also required to provide a plane ticket to his employee at the end of his contract period.
Also, in event of death, the employer has to bear the charges for transporting the worker’s body to the place from where he was hired. This is a significant provision in the law, since expatriates had been complaining for a long time about the lack of a legal provision requiring payment of airfare by the employer in the event of his employee’s death.
Previously, such expenses were either borne by the expatriates or by the embassy of the country to which the dead person belonged.
The new regulations require an expatriate to pay for his journey home in case his contract is terminated on the ground that he is unfit to work.
According to Ibrahim Yusoph, a Filipino translator who has been helping his compatriots in legal cases for over 20 years, in one labor case Filipino contract workers had not been paid transportation allowances amounting to SR600 per month for several years.
Ibrahim said that when they filed their case in the primary court, it issued its verdict in their favor obliging the employer to pay around SR80,000 toward their transportation allowances. However, the employer appealed against the judgment and the case has now gone to the Supreme Court. Such lengthy litigations cause severe hardships to employees, he observed.
The new labor law does not contain any provisions to prevent the abuse of housemaids. The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) has said that the organization has investigated 5,000 cases of child abuse and domestic violence since its inception in 2004. As for the age limit fixed at 60 years for male employees and 55 for women, Labor Minister Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi has clarified that professionals, such as doctors, university professors, consultants and engineers have been exempted from the new law which otherwise bans the recruitment of expatriate workers aged 60 and above.
Deploying a worker on assignments other than his profession for a period of not more than 30 days is also permitted. Annual leave will be increased to 30 days from 21 after the worker has completed five years of service. He will also be eligible for 120 days of medical leave or leave without pay instead of the present 90 days.
The law also specifies that a worker will be entitled to a single Haj during his service, although he is entitled to a 10-day Eid Al-Adha vacation. He will not be eligible for Eid holidays and medical leave during the probation period, which may be extended if both the parties agree.
Women would be allowed to work in all fields that are considered suitable for them. They will be entitled to maternity leave of four weeks before and six weeks after childbirth. According to the new law, an employer providing jobs to 50 women or more must arrange for childcare to take care of their children aged less than six. Such a move could help provide more job opportunities to women in providing baby-sitting facilities.
The law instructs the Labor Ministry to establish employment offices to provide free service to Saudi job-seekers and employers. These offices will register the names of Saudis of working age. Employers have been instructed to inform the offices of job vacancies, types of jobs, conditions and salaries. The target rate of Saudization of jobs in private companies will be raised to 75 percent with the implementation of the new law.
According to Abdul Majeed Al-Naseer, a senior official at the Labor Office in the Eastern Province, the new law, which has 245 articles, insists that employers train at least six percent of their Saudi workers annually in line with the government’s policy to promote Saudization of the work force.