Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Saudi Arabia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Saudi Arabia, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 20 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: 24,700,000
Capital: Riyadh
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

All union rights, where they exist, are severely circumscribed with considerable government interference. Foreign workers, who represent 67% of the workforce, are badly treated and deported when they try to protest.

Trade union rights in law

Labour Code denies rights to organise or strike: The Labour Code does not grant workers the right to organise, bargain collectively or strike.

Anyone who tries to form a union can be dismissed, imprisoned or (in the case of a migrant worker) deported.

Workers' committees: Since 2002, Saudi workers have the right to set up workers' committees in workplaces where more than 100 workers are employed. Foreign workers are not allowed to serve on committees.

These committees aim to find a "means of dialogue between the employee and employers in order to improve the level of work performance and eliminate technical and material obstacles impeding that".

Only one committee can be formed in each qualifying enterprise, and the government must approve their statutes and their members. Their remit is limited to providing recommendations on issues such as improving working conditions, health and safety standards and training. The Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and management have the right to send a representative to committee meetings, and their minutes of the meetings must be submitted to management and then passed on to the Minister.

The Ministry of Labour may dissolve a workers' committee should it violate regulations or threaten public security.

There are heavy limitations on the right of association. Public demonstrations of a political nature are prohibited.

Labour court: A tribunal to deal with employment rights is to be set up as part of a move to develop a justice system, but this had not happened by year's end.

Situation of foreign workers: Under increasingly intensive international pressure, the government has introduced some meagre reforms aimed to improve the lot of foreign workers. A department for expatriate workers has been set up, and high-level committees to settle labour disputes have been established. The trade in visas has been banned to prevent the 'sponsorship system', in which employers collect money for entry visas, work or residents permits. The reforms are designed to prevent inhuman treatment of workers or children, and violators are banned from recruiting foreign workers for five years and can face other punishment as well. Whether these laws will make any difference remains to be seen.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The Saudi labour market is dominated by foreign workers, who make up 67% of the workforce and hold between 90 and 95% of private sector jobs.

Associations: A regional collective of taxi drivers has existed for several years, and professional associations grouping computer experts, economists and engineers also exist. However, their scope of action is very limited.

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.

Work stoppages: Despite the ban on strikes, there have been occasional work stoppages in recent years, usually to protest against non-payment of wages.

Exploitation of migrant workers: During the year there were many reports of ill-treatment of foreign workers, many of whom live in conditions of "involuntary servitude". A new law prohibits employers retaining foreign employees' passports without their consent, but many still do confiscate passports.

In April, 130 Bangladeshi workers camped outside the Bangladeshi Consulate protesting about the non-payment of wages for 16 months. The company refused to renew their residency permits, which put them in danger of deportation. Six of those camping out were arrested and faced deportation.

In another case in September, a group of 100 Indian workers who had complained about harsh working conditions were thrown out of their accommodation and were left without shelter and identity papers.

Harsh treatment of domestic servants: Women migrant workers, most of whom are domestic servants, are subjected to blatant abuse, such as non-payment of wages, forced confinement, rape and physical violence. Some get redress in the labour courts, but this can take months.

During the year there were reports of imprisonment or flogging of female Indonesian domestic servants. In one notorious case an Indonesian maid who had been raped was jailed for a year (where she gave birth to the baby born as a result) and received 100 strokes of flogging.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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