RIYADH: Hundreds of Pakistani construction workers are to fly home from Saudi Arabia this week but without the salaries they have waited months to receive, embassy officials told AFP.
A total of 405 Pakistanis owed wages by once-mighty Saudi Oger will fly home from Wednesday courtesy of the Saudi government, said Abdul Shakoor Shaikh, Pakistan embassy's community welfare attaché. They are among more than 6,500 Pakistanis who, he said, have not been paid by the construction giant for that past eight or nine months.
Large contingents of Filipinos and Indians have also gone months without pay from Saudi Oger, which is led by Lebanon's billionaire former premier Saad Hariri. In all, more than 30,000 Saudi Oger workers are affected. Employees of Oger and other construction companies, which are dependent on state contracts, have suffered because of delayed receipts from a Saudi government whose oil revenues have collapsed over the past two years.
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Shaikh said 275 Pakistanis have already flown home under an aid plan announced last month by King Salman. The 100-million-riyal ($27-million) fund helps stranded workers with food, medical needs, a trip home, exit visas or, if they want, transfer to another employer in Saudi Arabia. Shaikh said the Saudi labour ministry "has facilitated a lot" in caring for the workers and has also helped to file court claims against Saudi Oger.
The embassy is authorised to receive the back wages for most of the workers and, when it arrives, will forward the money to those who return home, officials at the mission said. "But the problem persists. We cannot say that Saudi Oger has started paying the salaries," Shaikh said.
Exit visas for more than 2,000 of the Pakistanis have been completed, and the rest must decide whether to also go home. A relatively small number, more than 70, have transferred to other companies in Saudi Arabia but Shaikh said other sectors do not pay as much as construction.
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Shaikh was confident the workers would eventually receive their delayed wages. "The judicial system is good compared to other countries," he said. In May, Saudi Binladin Group, another construction titan, began paying delayed wages to its remaining staff after laying off tens of thousands of employees.
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