Thousands of Pakistani labourers working in Saudi Arabia continue to live in fear of arrest and hardship as they work despite unpaid salaries and expired work permits. The plight of at least 100 workers continued as their employer, the United Seemac Co., a construction company, allegedly failed to pay their salaries for several months.  The workers now reside in cramped conditions, with little to eat and fear of deportation in the hopes that the company will pay their dues and release the payments. The workers took their grievances to a labour court, but with little money to pursue the legal battle, many are stranded in squalid conditions. It is appalling people are treated like this in Saudi Arabia, and that there is no recourse to protection under labour laws.

While it is unfortunate enough that their dues have yet to be paid, their passports remain in the employer’s possession and they cannot go back to Pakistan unless the employer returns their passport. Thus these people are almost slaves, with no rights to find alternative work without identification or return to their home country. The company’s non-payment of dues has caused their work permits to expire, leaving them vulnerable to jail time and deportation. The company in turn has placed the onus on the Saudi government for this quandary, insisting that it had failed to compensate the firm for completed contract work. It is no secret that with oil revenues decreasing, the kingdom has cut down state spending, and construction firms have taken a hit, affecting not just Pakistani workers but 8,000 other expatriates facing similar difficulties.

In July, Pakistan’s Foreign Office took notice when another construction firm had failed to pay 500 Pakistanis their dues. While Pakistan Baitul Maal has taken a positive initiative and paid 4,100 families of Pakistani workers stranded in Saudi Arabia, providing them financial assistance of Rs210 million since the news surfaced, more needs to be done to diplomatically to resolve this crisis.