Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 12:53 GMT

2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Saudi Arabia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Saudi Arabia, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 25,700,000
Capital: Riyadh
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

The exploitation of migrant workers, particularly domestic workers, is still the norm in Saudi Arabia. Twenty-three Chinese workers were expelled for taking part in a strike. The few trade union rights that exist are seriously circumscribed.

Trade union rights in law

The Labour Code does not grant workers the right to organise, bargain collectively or strike. Workers have the right to form workers' committees in workplaces where more than 100 workers are employed, but anyone who tries to form a union can be dismissed, imprisoned or, in the case of migrant workers, deported. Only one workers' committee can be formed in each qualifying enterprise. Furthermore, the government must approve the statutes and membership of the workers' committees, and the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and management have the right to send a representative to the committee meetings. The minutes of the meetings must also be submitted to management and then passed on to the Minister. Foreign workers are not allowed to serve on workers' committees. Finally, public demonstrations of a political nature are prohibited, and the Ministry of Labour can dissolve a workers' committee should it violate regulations or threaten public security.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Political parties are still banned. The country is governed by the Al Saud family which does not tolerate any opposition.

Exploitation of migrant workers: Thousands of migrant workers who are either not legally resident or who have outstayed their visa, as well as others who have fled deplorable working conditions, want to be arrested by the police and sent home as soon as possible. Although the law bans employers from retaining the passports of migrant workers without their consent, the practice remains frequent and leaves migrant workers with no other recourse than the intervention of their consulate or the police to get sent home.

No real improvement for migrant domestic workers: According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia is home to over 1.5 million women migrant domestic workers, the most in the Middle East. Their rights are regularly violated. Their confinement in their employer's home and the requirement that an employer provide an "exit visa" before the worker can leave the country often lead to cases of forced labour.

In July, Saudi Arabia's Shura Council finally passed, after several years' deliberations, an annex to the labour law that requires employers to provide domestic workers at least nine hours of rest each day and suitable accommodation. However, it still contains provisions that leave workers exposed to abuse, such as the duty to obey employers' order and a prohibition against leaving the workplace without a "legitimate reason."

Human Rights Watch reports that the embassies of the Asian countries of origin of these women workers receive thousands of complaints from domestic workers every year about being forced to work 15 to 20 hour a day, seven days a week, in some cases without pay.

No collective bargaining: Wages are fixed by employers, based on the nature of the work and the nationality of the worker. Even in big multinational companies, Saudi and Western employees are paid at least 30% to 50% more than workers from other parts of the world.

23 Chinese migrant workers expelled following a strike: Despite the ban on strikes, work stoppages have sometimes occurred in recent years, usually over pay. In January 200 Chinese building workers went on strike in protest at being paid less than they were promised before they left China. Following the strike, 23 of them were arrested and forcibly repatriated.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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