Saudi company withholds employee salaries for 10 months under cover of pandemic

Saudi company withholds employee salaries for 10 months under cover of pandemic

LondonHuta Group, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest marine-construction companies, is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to violate the most basic rights of hundreds of its employees: payment for their work. The company has not paid many of its employees—most of whom are foreign migrants working in construction, and thus exposed to the virus—for 10 months.

Dozens of the employees of Huta Group, a subsidiary of the Saudi Binladin Group, posted social media videos as they staged a sit-in in front of the company's headquarters in Jeddah. They say the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has made no effort to secure their compensation.

The company’s administration is using the [pandemic-induced] economic crisis as an excuse to not paying our salaries, without any regard for our suffering. Our families have no other source of income

- a Yemeni employee at Huta Group

"The company’s administration is using the [pandemic-induced] economic crisis as an excuse to not paying our salaries, without any regard for our suffering. Our families have no other source of income," said a Yemeni employee.

Huta is a subsidiary of the Saudi Binladin Group, suffered a financial setback recently when the government assumed 35% of its ownership. The Bloomberg news agency reports that, "The Binladin Group is reeling under the impact of the coronavirus and the restructuring of about $15 billion of debt." Reuters reported that the company had “cut thousands of jobs and reduced staff salaries between 30% to 70%." In early November, the company plans to sell property and other assets to pay its debts.

ImpACT International calls on the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development to end the crisis faced by employees of Huta and other companies in the Binladin Group by ensuring that they are paid and that their other rights are guaranteed. Likewise, Saudi authorities should guarantee migrants’ right to protect their interests via litigation and impose sanctions on any entities that violate their human rights.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is home to the largest number of migrant workers in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, with an estimated 10 million. Migrant workers in Saudi Arabia have been subjected to irregular wages, dangerous working conditions, forced labor, sexual harassment and other abuses. Until recently, there was not much opportunity for relief, since migrant employees were governed by the kafala system, which links workers' rights to their employers.

However, last September, the government ratified the International Labor Organization's Protection of Wages Convention of 1949, which mandates the payment of wages and expansion of unemployment benefits for workers who suffer loss of earnings due to even a partial cut in hours.

ImpACT International urges Saudi authorities to prohibit companies from violating employee rights and implement its agreement to enforce a wage-protection program for both local and expatriate workers.

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