Condition of Migrant Workers and Women in Saudi Arabia

Posted on January 2, 2007


Source: Human Rights Watch 2006 Report

Migrant Workers

The estimated 8.8 million largely South and Southeast Asian and Arab foreign workers in Saudi Arabia comprise a third of the country’s population, according to Minister of Labor Ghazi al-Gosaibi. Many face exploitative working conditions, including sixteen-hour workdays, no breaks or food and drink, and often remain confined to locked dormitories during their time off. Security forces deported tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in 2005. Arrested foreign workers face torture and prolonged incommunicado detention.

Nongovernmental organizations in several Asian countries and those countries’ diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia documented hundreds of abuses of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, such as unpaid wages, long working hours, and physical and sexual abuse. The isolation of women domestic workers in private homes, and the lack of legal protection, puts them at risk of serious abuse. For example, in April 2005 Indonesian maid Suniati Binti Nibaran Sujari barely survived burn injuries she alleged her employer inflicted on her. The Saudi court system offers little or no redress. Nur Miyati, another Indonesian maid, in March accused her employers of torture. While they remained free, she was detained successively in a hospital, a prison, and a women’s rehabilitation center before being released into the custody of the labor attaché of the Indonesian embassy.

Indonesia suspended sending unskilled labor to Saudi Arabia from March until August 2005, when the two countries concluded a bilateral agreement on standard employment contracts, regulated weekly and annual time-off, and minimum wages. The Saudi government issued a new labor law in September 2005 that continues to exclude domestic workers, although a special annex promises to regulate their relations with employers. The law entitles non-domestic migrant workers to one day of rest per week and twenty-one vacation days annually. On July 24 the Ministry of Labor announced the creation within the ministry of a new Department for the Protection of Domestic Workers, to receive complaints and impose penalties. […]

Note from Rafik Beekun: Before you decide to work in Saudi Arabia as a foreign worker, please read the following reports:

  1. Trafficking in Persons 2005 Report by the US Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
  2. Amnesty International Report on Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia.
  3. The World Must Know About This. Article from the St. Petersburg Times.

Women’s Rights

Women in the kingdom continued to suffer from severe discrimination in the workplace, home, and the courts, and from restrictions in their freedom of movement and their choice of partners. The religious police enforce strict gender segregation and women’s public dress code of head-to-toe covering. Women were not allowed to vote or stand as candidates in the municipal elections. Women are also excluded from the weekly majlis (council), where senior members of the royal family listen to the complaints and proposals of Saudi citizens.

Women cannot work, study, or travel without explicit permission from a male relative. Their freedom of movement is further restricted by a law prohibiting them from driving. While a new labor law passed in late September 2005 reportedly expands the professional fields where women are eligible for work, they continue to be barred from jobs that are deemed “not suitable to their nature.”

The complete overview of the report by Human Rights Watch on Saudi Arabia can be read by clicking here.

More on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia can also be read from an Amnesty International Report entitled “Time is long overdue to address women’s rights” by clicking here.