Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2017, 15:40 GMT

2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Saudi Arabia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Saudi Arabia, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 11 December 2017]
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: 25,600,000
Capital: Riyadh
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

Trade union rights continue to be non-existent, although the government allows for workers' committees. The new labour law still does not give workers the right to organise, bargain or strike. It limits the number of foreign workers and allows more women to work.

Trade union rights in law

New labour legislation but no trade union rights: The new Labour Code that was adopted in September 2005 came into force in April 2006. It was drafted without any input from workers' representatives. It still does not grant workers the right to organise, bargain collectively or strike. While it improves women's opportunity to work, by opening more sectors where they will be allowed to work, there is no sign of the promised protection for female domestic workers.

The law still only allows for workers' committees. Trade unions and strikes are banned. Whoever tries to form a union can be dismissed, imprisoned or (in the case of the huge number of migrant workers) deported. Protest action is made difficult by the heavy limitations on the right of association. Public demonstrations of a political nature are prohibited, as is collective bargaining. There is no minimum wage.

Workers' committees: Since 2002, Saudi workers have the right to set up workers' committees in workplaces where more than 100 workers are employed. 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".

Activities heavily circumscribed: Only one committee can be formed in each qualifying enterprise. The government approves the statutes of the committees. The main tasks of the committees are limited to providing recommendations on issues such as the improvement of working conditions, health and safety standards and training, as well as increasing productivity. The Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and management both have the right to send a representative to meetings of the committees. Minutes of the meetings are to be submitted to management, who then passes them on to the Minister.

Committee members are chosen by the workers of the company but must then be approved by the Minister of Labour. Foreign workers are not allowed to serve on committees, although committees are allowed to represent their views. The Ministry of Labour may dissolve a workers' committee should it violate regulations or threaten public security.

Trade union rights in practice

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 per cent 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.

Plan to reduce foreign workforce: Over 60 per cent of the workforce is foreign, working primarily in the private sector. Under the new labour law, the government has raised the minimum requirement of Saudis employed in companies to 75 per cent, but allows for this percentage to be reduced if there is a shortage of qualified nationals to fill the posts. The government has also reserved 22 job sectors for Saudis, including public relations, clerical positions, storekeepers, postal services, car sales and tourist guides.

Exploitation of migrant workers: The lack of union rights and protection of workers are tangible. Migrant workers, particularly women, are frequently subjected to blatant abuse, such as non-payment of wages, forced confinement, rape and physical violence. In recent years reports of serious cases of abuse towards domestic migrant workers have continued to flood in. What is more, migrant workers are regularly condemned to death and executed.

Under increasingly intensive international pressure, the government has introduced some meagre reforms aimed in particular at improving the lot of foreign workers.

In 2004, a decree was issued banning all forms of human trafficking and the government also banned inhuman treatment of workers. In 2005, a government-sponsored human rights committee was established, however its members had still not been appointed by the end of the 2006.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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