Expat Pakistanis struggle as Saudi construction firms hold wages

Islamabad: Thousands of Pakistani labourers working in Saudi Arabia fear arrest and hardship as they continue to work in the country with unpaid salaries and expired work permits, a report said on Thursday.

“We rush back to our quarters immediately after work,” one worker told Dawn online in a telephone interview, adding “We are too scared of the police to step outside.”

At least 100 workers were thrust into uncertainty after their employer, the United Seemac Co., a construction company, allegedly failed to pay their salaries for several months.

Following the company’s repeated promises of “releasing payments soon”, the workers made a difficult decision earlier this year: they took their grievances to a labour court.

However, with the legal battle still in limbo, the expatriates with little money and borrowed time were quickly losing hope, Dawn online reported.

“The company has a total of 500 employees of different nationalities, and all are in a similar situation. The trend of not paying salaries is new,” Dawn online quoted another worker as saying, adding that he has not faced salary delays before.

Many of the workers hold expired iqamas, the residence permits issued to expatriates who arrive in Saudi Arabia on an employment visa.

Blaming the company for the expired permits, another staffer Basit Sheikh said: “The company has not paid the fee employers are required to submit for iqama renewal.”

Sheikh said he was recently arrested and jailed for seven days for not having a valid residence permit, Dawn online noted.

In July, Pakistan’s Foreign Of­­fi­­ce took notice of the situation when another construction firm failed to pay 500 Pakistanis their dues.

Non-payment of salaries also affects 8,000 individuals at the Saad Group of Companies, Dawn online said.