Stranded Medical Workers On Verge Of Starvation

RIYADH, 14 May 2008 — More than 55 foreign medical workers in Riyadh have not been paid their salaries for several months and are now “on the verge of starvation.” To add to their problems, the local Labor Court has scheduled a hearing into their case for July.

“These workers have been sponsored by the Riyadh-based Nukhba House for Medical Services and are on the verge of starvation now,” said Abid Lateef Khan, a Pakistani medical technician who has not been paid his salary for six months.

Gagan Kumar Singh, an Indian laboratory technician who has not been paid for seven months, said, “Our requests and pleas fell on deaf ears. We approached the management many times asking them to clear our dues and send us home.”

The workers have now urged Saudi officials to intervene and are appealing to the Labor Court to act quickly to address their complaints.

Arab News tried to contact the senior managers of the company, but could not reach them. A Sri Lankan accountant working for the company refused to provide the managers’ mobile numbers.

The Indian Embassy, on its part, has already blacklisted the company, while complaints have been lodged with other embassies.

The 55 workers, who include medical professionals and cleaners, lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Labor earlier this year that the company made them work an extra year after their contracts expired, failed to pay for their return tickets home, retained up to eight months’ wages, and withheld approval for exit visas.

“We are being punished for no fault of ours and we are forced to stay in this country penniless for months now without any end in sight for our misery,” said Khan.

The matter has also been reported to several other government agencies, as well as the local and international human rights organizations.

“When Ministry of Health workers replaced the Nukhba professionals in January, Nukhba moved the foreign workers into a flat in Riyadh, where 12 of us share a single room without beds or proper sanitation… We have exhausted all our savings in the last several months, since the company has confined us to the flat, and we are unable to work or return home,” said Khan.

The workers also risk arrest and summary deportation, as the company has not renewed their residence permits. Only a handful of them have iqamas that are still valid.

“Even exit and re-entry visas given to a few of the workers have expired, since they were either prevented from leaving or were not paid their dues enabling them to travel,” said Singh.

The workers complained to the Ministry of Health in 2007 and again this year, and also approached the governmental Human Rights Commission early this year, but to no avail. This week, risking arrests, they staged a protest in front of at a local police station because they have run out of money to buy food.

The medical technicians were earning around $350-400 a month, and the cleaning staff less than $100. A few Bangladeshi doctors were also on Nukhba’s payroll, said one of the workers who asked his name not be published.

The workers add that they have not received overtime pay for working on holidays, and are seeking their end-of-service benefits of 15 days pay per year worked and return tickets to their home countries.

Many of them have no money for food and water. “But, no one is helping us, neither our embassies,” said another worker.

According to Saudi labor regulations, companies that do not pay their workers or breach other contractual obligations can face penalties of fines, suspension of their operations, and in the most egregious cases, permanent closure. Nukhba is a Riyadh-based medical services company, owned and operated by a leading business house.

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