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

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Saudi Arabia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Saudi Arabia, 6 June 2012, 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: 27,400,000
Capital: Riyadh

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: none reported
Attempted Murders: none reported
Threats: none reported
Injuries: none reported
Arrests: none reported
Imprisonments: none reported
Dismissals: none reported

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Saudia Arabia is still the land of prohibitions: trade unions, collective bargaining, strikes and demonstrations are all banned. The exploitation of migrant workers, particularly domestic workers, is the norm.


Political parties are still banned in this country governed by the Al Saud royal family which does not tolerate any opposition. The Constitution gives King Abdallah absolute power over governmental institutions and the affairs of State, and severely restricts political dissent and freedom of expression.

Despite the ban on demonstrations, several took place between February and April, similar to the other demonstrations taking place in other Arab countries, calling for political and social reform and the respect of fundamental human rights. Demonstrators were brutally dispersed, and hundreds were injured or arrested. In at least one instance the security forces fired live ammunition at the demonstrators.

To limit the spread of the protest movement, the authorities announced a series of public spending measures. The King also promised that in 2015 women would have the right to vote and to stand in municipal elections (the only ballot open to citizens) and to be appointed to the Consultative Council, an advisory body to the monarchy, but a similar promise made in 2005 was not put into effect. Women still face heavy discrimination.

Trade union rights in law

The Labour Code does not grant workers the right to create unions, bargain collectively or strike, and anyone who tries to form a union can be dismissed, imprisoned or, in the case of migrant workers, deported. Workers are only allowed to form workers' committees in workplaces where more than 100 workers are employed, and only one committee can be formed in each qualifying enterprise. Foreign workers are not allowed to serve on workers' committees. The role of the workers' committees is limited to suggesting recommendations on working conditions, health and safety standards, and productivity.

The government must approve the statutes and membership of the workers' committees, and the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs as well as the company 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. 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.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Severe abuse of women domestic workers:

The country's 1.5 million women domestic workers are not covered by the labour law adopted in 2005. The embassies of these women's Asian countries of origin receive thousands of complaints from domestic workers who are forced to work between 15 and 20 hours per day, seven days a week, sometimes without pay. Women domestic workers are frequently deprived of their freedom and food, face sexual and psychological abuse and are beaten by their employers.

In June for example, after being alerted by neighbours, the authorities found a Sri Lankan domestic worker who had been held against her will by her employers for 14 years, without pay.

The authorities discourage complaints and don't usually follow up on them, other than deporting the victims of the exploitation without any serious inquiry. In September a court overturned on appeal a three year prison sentence against a Saudi Arabian women who had tortured her Indonesian domestic employee, Sumiati Mustapa.

Following the decapitation in June of a 54-year-old Indonesian domestic worker found guilty of stabbing her employer to death, after being subjected to prolonged abuse, Indonesia decreed a moratorium on sending domestic workers to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi authorities provisionally suspended granting visas to domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, further to increased tensions with the two countries.

Exploitation of migrant workers:

Approximately 8.3 million migrants are legally employed in Saudi Arabia. They make up 90 to 95% of the private sector workforce. Many are victims of various forms of exploitation in conditions akin to slavery. In many cases migrant workers are abused by the recruitment agencies who promise them far more than they can actually earn in Saudi Arabia.

The kafala (sponsorship) system links the worker's work permit to the employer's goodwill. A migrant cannot change employer or leave the country without the written consent of their original employer or guarantor. The system lends itself to abuses such as the confiscation of passports by employers, forced labour, non-payment of wages etc. This sponsorship and the slowness of legal proceedings mean that a migrant who is in dispute with his/her employer is at an impasse: he/she cannot continue to work nor can he/she return home. Some run away despite having their passport confiscated and seek refuge at their embassy. The Indonesian media reported that between 19 September and 24 October, the Indonesian consulate in Jeddah issued 4,550 travel documents to workers who had run away from their employer after not being paid or other abuses. The majority were domestic workers and drivers.

Despite the ban on strikes, there were several illegal strikes by migrant workers, usually over unpaid wages.


No entry for this country for this year

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