SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi labourers still working in 55°C temperatures

Saudi Arabia, which is often accused of failing to protect the rights of its foreign laborers, has introduced a new law banning companies from having their employees work outside during the peak hours of summer heat. Read more...

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Saudi Arabia, which is often accused of failing to protect the rights of its foreign laborers, has introduced a new law banning companies from having their employees work outside during the peak hours of summer heat.

However, many companies are disregarding this ban, as shown by numerous images posted on social media.

The ban, which is integrated into Saudi labour laws, prohibits businesses from having employees work outside between noon and 3pm during the summer period between June 15 and September 15. Businesses that break the law face a fine of 10,000 rials [equivalent to 2,400 euros] and may even be shut down.

Since June 15, the Labour Minister has been touting his desire to clamp down on offending businesses. He has released numerous warnings to businesses and set up a hotline that Saudis can call to denounce companies infringing the ban. Many Saudis have also taken to social media to publish photos and videos of those workers still forced to work outside under the midday sun.

This social media user filmed a construction zone in Riyadh. “It’s 2pm and, as you can see, this business doesn’t seem worried about the ban.”

Another social media user filmed another construction zone at 1pm.

This Twitter user posted a photo of a construction site near a Riyadh restaurant. "It’s 12:30", he noted.

"The minister is talking a lot but doing nothing," complained another social media user.

These photos were taken in Al-Qassim province. The thermometer on the car dashboard reads 44°C.

"It is not humanly possible to work when it’s 55°C"

Mohammed al-Saeedi is our Observer in Saudi Arabia.

This ban was introduced in Saudi Arabia three years ago because of pressure exerted on the authorities by several NGOs defending human rights.

Saudi Arabia was late to adopt the measure—many other Gulf countries like Bahrain and Qatar have had these laws in place for about ten years [Editor’s note: That said, Qatar has also been extensively criticised for the human rights abuses of migrant workers].

I would say that, overall, major businesses in Saudi Arabia respect this rule and adapt their work hours accordingly. At midday, temperatures can reach up to 55°C and it is not humanly possible to work in those conditions, especially during Ramadan [Editor’s note: when practicing Muslims fast and do not even drink water during the day]. Even so, small construction businesses, which are usually owned by foreign nationals, break the law shamelessly.

In the Saudi construction business, most small business owners pay their labourers, who are often from Pakistan or Bangladesh, for completed tasks and not by the hour or by the month. They push them to work as quickly as possible to finish and then move on to the next construction site.

The labourers don’t object to these conditions because of the precarious nature of their situation: they know that they need to earn as much money as possible because they may not have work the next day.