Almost 70 Pakistani workers have been pushed to live in extreme circumstances because of a lack of renewed permits and not being paid for over a year by a construction firm called Redico-KSA. This is not the first instance of unjust treatment towards the labour by Saudi companies. Last year, almost 55,000 workers were issued exit visas; which meant that they had to leave the country without having been paid.

The sheer lack of understanding of a foreign worker’s situation and taking no action in this regard, is a clear sign of how dismal the conditions are for the labour class in Saudi Arabia. To any worker anywhere, everything depends on the paycheck. A lot of these workers leave behind families in Pakistan and as a result, these satellite families have to face the consequences. When a worker is not paid on time, he has to take loans to visit his family. That in turn increases the pressure on them because a lone visit is not often allowed by the employers.

The result is that these workers have to move their families to the kingdom, and the eventual outcome is the impact on the Pakistani economy. The State Bank of Pakistan released a report last year, according to which Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia sent back $9.7 billion between July and December. Remittances from Saudi Arabia make up the lion’s share of the over $18bn dollars that overseas workers sent to Pakistan in that period. The fact that a large number of expatriate construction workers have not been paid (and have been fired) could well have a significant impact on Pakistan’s economy.

This is not the kind of treatment one expects from a country that has been an ally for the longest time. Pakistan has always backed Saudi Arabia and has been ready to defend its borders in times of a security lapse. The unjust treatment of the Pakistani workers cannot be justified in any manner and swift action should be taken by the Saudi government to protect these workers.

Relatives of most of the affected Pakistanis were to be paid Rs50000 under the prime minister scheme. However, not everyone has received the payment yet. The Pakistani embassy has also taken very long to respond to the crisis. Affected employees contacted them over six months ago, but it is only now that they have realised the urgency of the matter and the need to protect the citizens of Pakistan. The government of Pakistan should take immediate notice to ensure no further delay in action.