Thursday, January 7, 2010

Saudis running sweatshops


Habib Hussain, an Indian immigrant worker from Uttar Pradesh, hid in a toilet of a plane to catch a ride home from Saudi Arabia. He has been working at the airport in Medina for five months. He alleges that his employers did not pay him even once, forcing him to flee the holy land. He survived in Saudi Arabia by begging for food from pilgrims performing the annual Haj ritual.

Habib is not alone. The draconian labour laws in Saudi Arabia are designed to discriminate against immigrant labourers who hail mostly from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  Other Arab states are no different. The labourers working in UAE and other Middle Eastern states live in deplorable conditions. The workers have to handover their travel documents to the employers as part of the agreement. By withholding the travel documents from labourers, the employers in the Middle East treat the South Asian migrants as bonded  labour.

Only recent has the media mustered the courage to report on the plight of immigrant labourers in the Middle East.  In a related development, a group of 108 Indian labourers was abandoned in Kabul by the agents representing their employers in Dubai. These workers had handed their travel documents to their employers who have not returned the same to the labourers now stranded in Afghanistan, The Indian embassy in Kabul is trying to repatriate these workers who at the moment have taken refuge in a Gurdawara in Kabul.

The fact that the Arab employers have routinely ill-treated their South Asian workers have been known for decades. It is time to remove the shroud of holiness from the face of the Arab-owned businesses in the Middle East and force them to embrace international covenants on labour rights.

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