Runaway Workers Worry Riyadh Farm Owners

More than 300 farm workers have run away from their employers during the last six months. Many farm owners have lodged complaints about the sudden disappearance of their workers. Many are making the rounds of labor offices, embassies and deportation centers to find their laborers, local farm owners and businessmen said here yesterday.

The farm owners claim that a large number of foreign workers have fled and left them in a situation where they have to take care of their land and crops.

Abdullah H. Al-Samari, who owns a farm on the outskirts of Riyadh, said that seven of his farm workers had run away last month. “I have so far failed to trace them,” he said.

“More than 300 farm workers from at least 17 farms are reported to have run away during the last six months,” said Salem Al-Nahas, who has also lost workers. He speculated that most of the Asian workers fled because of the harsh climatic conditions in the arid Central Region during the last month. Others, however, are complaining that foreign laborers are abandoning their jobs and running away for nor reason.

Farm owners say they are suffering huge financial losses because of crops going to waste when laborers run away. “The number of workers who run away create serious problems in terms of farm cultivation and production,” said Muhammad Azeem, the Asian manager of a farm.

Azeem did say that poor working and housing conditions often cause workers to run away. In many cases, the workers are poorly paid, are asked to work more than 10 hours a day and may even be denied basic amenities. Whatever the case, Azeem said that the runaway workers are a threat to the economy and to the security of Saudi society.

Saleh Al-Duaiji, who owns a date farm, which contains over 500 date trees and other crops, has lost several workers. “I’ve had five workers leave my farm recently, in spite of the fact that I pay them good salaries and provide a place for them to live.”

Al-Duaiji says he has now been forced to hire illegal overstayers to take care of his farm; otherwise his crops would be destroyed.

Speaking about one particular worker, Al-Duaiji said: “After more than a year, the Passport Department arrested him. The officials called us for an air-ticket to deport him or SR2,000 to cancel the report he filed if we want the worker back. The official response is agonizing and runaway workers are really making problems.”

There are approximately 200,000 Asians and Africans working on farms throughout the Kingdom. The farm owners say that government rules allow laborers to travel around the Kingdom without the approval of their sponsors and so many leave and work illegally on farms where they are paid better. The farm owners have asked the Ministry of Labor to impose tighter restrictions on the movement of farm workers.

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