12 OFW in Saudi Arabia fired from Jobs for Saudization "Nitaqat"

July 11, 2011: An alliance of Filipino migrant rights group in the Middle East, on Monday said a dozen Philippine expatriates were terminated from their jobs along with 10 other foreign workers in Saudi Arabia following the implementation of the so-called "Nitaqat".

Nitaqat is the categorization of public and private companies into coded color that represents if a company complies the ‘Saudization’ requirement by the Arabian government in hiring its own nationals to at least about 10% of the total numbers of its workforce.

Companies, local and foreign, will be classified into three categories - Green, if the company complies the minimum 10% of the total numbers of staff hired are Saudis; Yellow category if it employed Saudi below 10%, and Red if the company does not employ any single local Saudi.

The coding of companies is expected to boost the implementation of the Saudization scheme implemented years ago but failed because of the refusal of many local and foreign private companies to commit and follow the policy.

Though the Saudi ministry clarified that expats employed by “Red” companies, mostly private, based on the assessment of the labor ministry, will be subjected to 6-year. work permit limit unless their company complies of the Saudization requirement -that is hiring Saudis of at least 10% of its total work force.

Companies in “Yellow” category will be told to comply strictly the Saudization requirement otherwise their expat will be subjected to 6-year work permit cap.

The coded color category of a company can be known by visiting the Ministry of Labor’s website (www.mol.gov.sa).

“The clarification issued by the Saudi ministry of labor does not lessen the worries of our fellow OFWs and migrant workers of other nationalities; those working in ‘Red’ and ‘Yellow’ companies are not totally ‘safe’,” John Leonard Monterona, of the Migrante-Middle East, in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

Monterona said they have monitored 22 expatriates who were fired from their respective jobs. “Twelve of them are OFWs while 10 are other nationalities like Indians and Pakistanis,” he added.

Monterona clarified that there monitoring is based on the calls of OFWs and other nationalities in Saudi to seek for assistance and guidance from Migrante chapters in Saudi Arabia.

“One of them, an OFW-engineer who works for a contracting company in Jeddah, sent me a copy of his termination notice they received along with two Lebanese co-workers dated June 29 from the company and thereby giving them 1 month notice,” Monterona said.

Monterona added the OFW, who requested not to be named, claimed that he hasn’t paid of his salary for 3 months covering the period of April, May, and June 2011 and that he has not completed yet his 2-year contract.

“Normally, the termination notice will not provide an explanation what is the cause of the termination, but generally stating that both parties, the employer and the employee, as per Saudi labor law can terminate the employment contract providing there is at least 1 month notice given,” Monterona explained.

Monterona said since as early as this time his group are already receiving reports of jobs terminations among OFWs, they will be launching a ‘Sagip Migrante’ campaign on Friday.

‘With our ‘Sagip Migrante’ campaign, it is our aim to provide assistance and guidance to those OFWs who will be displaced from their jobs,” Monterona added.

Monterona said his group had set up a hotline numbers for those who will be seeking assistance and it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and ‘Sagip Migrante’ hotlines in Saudi Arabia are 00966 564 978 012 and 00966 535921228.

Migrante-ME calls on the Aquino government to immediately craft ‘safety nets’ for those who will be displaced and improve its reintegration program and make OWWA loan facility hassle-free for displaced OFWs.

“The Aquino government should prepare for the influx of jobless OFWs by developing the economy through genuine agrarian reform program and nationalization of basic industries and get away from reliance to multinationals and transnational corporations,” Monterona said.

But Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte downplayed the news on Saudi exit visa system and called it rumors.

She said there were chain e-mails going around that give some people the impression that the authorities of Saudi Arabia, in pursuit of Nitaqat or nationalization, have taken to marking the visas of foreign workers "exit only," when previously, the visas were "exit-re-entry" visas.

Valte said Saudi authorities have themselves denied that exit-re-entry visas have been switched to exit-only visas at airports. They clarified that Saudi authorities are revising their rules to apply a six-year rule for foreign workers in companies that fail to meet nationalization targets. The revised rules, however, will not affect final exit regulations as they exist, she said.

"For workers who are still under contract, an exit-re-entry visa is provided, no longer the sticker, but in paper form as records are now maintained electronically. Departing workers who have exit-re-entry visas are familiar with the procedure: they show the paper with their visa, it is checked, and the passport receives a rectangular "Exit" stamp; upon returning from vacation, the worker's passport then receives an oval "Entry" stamp."

"For those to be given a final exit visa, the regulations are clear: no employee can file for an exit unless their contract has concluded, if ESB benefits haven't been given, as well as unpaid salaries and allowances. A clearance must be signed both by the worker and the employer. And these must be submitted to the Saudi Ministry of Labor for approval. The approval process requires electronic fingerprinting of the worker, and a background check to see if there are pending police or bank or credit card liabilities. Then it will be forwarded to the Jawasat for stamping as a final exit visa," Valte explained.

She said as the Nitaqat rules are further clarified, the most significant development will be that the Iqama, or official identity card depicting an individual as a resident of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will become a basis for determining exit visas and not just the date of the end of contracts.

"We understand that what the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will apply is that the date for termination will either be the end of contract or the expiration date of the Iqama, whichever comes first. However, some companies may extend the contracts of their workers up to the date of the expiration of the Iqama, if that comes later," she said.

The Philippine Embassy and Consulates in Saudi Arabia are prepared to render assistance to its citizens, particularly undocumented workers, according to Valte.

"We urge our fellow citizens to undertake the proper documentation of their identity and work; and for our fellow citizens to be discriminating about so-called information spread by excitable, even malicious, and irresponsible, individuals or groups," she said.

Valte did not say if she was referring to Migrante-Middle East, which is active in assisting distressed OFWs and welfare of Filipino workers in Saudi.

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