The Solidarity Center supports the participation of Saudi worker committees in its cross-border Gulf-regional programs.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional economic and trade alliance founded in 1981. In the last ten years, as global oil prices expanded to reach $140 a barrel in 2008, a rapid accumulation of wealth drove an astonishing investment and development boom in the GCC. The resulting proliferation of high-profile construction projects has attracted wide international attention, and contributed to significant growth in infrastructure and civic projects, but also revealed the extent of the direct exploitation of the millions of low-wage workers employed in the dangerous and dirty jobs in manufacturing, construction, cleaning services, and domestic work. The vast majority of these private sector employees are migrant workers from South and South-East Asia.
Despite a new labor code, put into effect in 2006, in Saudi Arabia, workers are still not granted the right to join or form unions, bargain collectively, or go on strike. Workers attempting to organize are subject to dismissal, imprisonment, or, in the case of the large migrant work force, deported. Despite this, there have been occasional work stoppages in recent years, usually to protest against nonpayment of wages. Since 2002, workers in Saudi Arabia have been granted the right to form workplace committees. The main tasks of these committees are limited to suggesting recommendations on improving working conditions, health and safety standards and training, and increasing productivity. The government is heavily involved in the formation, activities, and meetings of these committees, and the Ministry of Labor may dissolve any workers’ committee that is considered to violate national regulations or threaten public security.
All workers in Saudi Arabia are denied their fundamental human rights, but migrant workers, as non-citizens, are particularly vulnerable. Migrant workers make up 67% of the Saudi workforce. In the private sector, 90-95% of the workers are foreign. These foreign workers are prohibited from serving on workers’ committees, although the committees are permitted to represent their views. The new labor code includes a plan to reduce the foreign workforce, but allows great flexibility for employers who determine that their needs aren’t fully met by the national workforce. The labor code also opened up new economic sectors for women’s employment, an important step for women’s rights, but perhaps a dangerous development for women migrant workers who are frequently subjected to harsh abuse, including nonpayment of wages, forced confinement, physical violence, and rape. As the world pays closer attention to the challenges that migrant workers suffer, the government of Saudi Arabia has introduced some meager reforms to address this issue. There is much work that still needs to be done.
Restricted freedom of association, gender- and nationality-based discrimination, and inadequate legal protections are cross-regional challenges affecting each of the GCC States. Recognizing this, GCC trade unionists are collaborating to advance cross-regional solutions. In 2008, representatives from Saudi Arabian workers’ committees attended the historic foundational meeting in Kuwait of the Workers Council for the GCC and Yemen, connecting them with trade unions and workers organizations from Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen. The Solidarity Center programs in the GCC region hope to encourage future steps along this promising path to achieving workers basic human rights.
Solidarity Center Provides Worker Perspective at GCC Leadership Summit
. Solidarity Center and AFL-CIO senior staff spoke to more than 50 policymakers, government officials, HR directors, senior managers and consultants, developers, suppliers, bankers, and global union leaders at a groundbreaking leadership summit on corporate social responsibility in the Gulf Cooperation Council construction industry, held June 18, 2008 in Dubai, UAE.
Hope for Migrant Workers in Gulf States
. The Solidarity Center is part of an effort that brings together union, employer, and government representatives to improve working conditions for migrants in the Gulf States.
Solidarity Center Organizes Groundbreaking Migrant Worker Rights Panel at ILO Meeting
. A groundbreaking panel discussion on migrant worker issues, co-hosted by the Solidarity Center and the International Trade Union Confederation on June 13, 2007, during the International Labor Conference in Geneva, drew a standing-room-only crowd.
Solidarity Center Publications