Reports of dwindling foreign exchange funds have permeated the Pakistani media over the past several months. Economies where the majority of Pakistani expatriates work have been hit by tumbling oil prices amongst other economic woes. However, the human costs of this story have gone under-reported. Foreign exchange is not being sent to Pakistan because those earning it are losing their livelihoods and are desperately struggling to make ends meet. Over 8,000 Pakistanis working for various construction companies in Saudi Arabia are not receiving salaries and are living in fear of incarceration due to expired work permits. The prime minister has now called for the Pakistan embassy in Riyadh to extend support to these workers in resolving these issues.
Many of these individuals are currently living in dire circumstances. Since their work permits have expired, they are afraid of getting arrested by Saudi authorities. They are forced to spend all their time either at work where they don’t get paid or in cramped company quarters surviving on paltry sums occasionally given to them by employers that barely cover basic necessities. Their passports are in the custody of their employers and the work permits remain expired since it is the employers’ task to pay the required fees and get them renewed. The legal and economic status of these workers is in jeopardy and cases put forth to labour courts have not yielded results thus far. For many, the option of forgoing their current employment and returning home without back pay does not exist. The earnings of these workers have provided a much-needed boost to our economy for the past several decades. Now that they need legal and economic support from their home country, they must not be left in the lurch. The situation being faced by Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia is untenable and the government must follow through with its statements by making efforts to improve their living situation immediately.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2016.
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