Thursday, May 05, 2005

Pay them decent salaries - Okaz

Perhaps to a poor Vietnamese, SR500 sounds like a good wage and no doubt it would be in a country where all wages were low and living conditions less than most of us would expect. Once the Vietnamese worker arrives in Saudi Arabia and begins to experience life here, he or she will find that SR500 a month is a very modest amount indeed. So small a salary will make them feel they have been done a great injustice and that they are being exploited. Problem after problem then begins to surface and no doubt, many workers will soon run away from their employers. Others will be ready to take them on and pay them more — which of course is one reason foreign workers so often leave their original employers.

We have had a long experience with the problems caused by low wages and yet we insist on making the same mistake over and over. The case of street cleaners and garbage collectors is the best example. The companies employing them pay them such low salaries that many have to resort to begging in order to survive. There are thousands of other workers, doing almost every kind of job, both illegal and dangerous, with their sponsors knowing nothing.
It appears that it is not in the economic interest of the sponsor to pay more. There is a large pool of foreign workers ready to work at these low wages. It could be that there is a persist misperception of that life in Saudi Arabia will be better. It could be that this is not a misperception and that it is commonly understood that it's not just the sponsor's pay, but the side jobs you'll be able to take that make it worthwhile to work in Saudi Arabia.

Still, from perspective of Saudi society as a whole the begging and illegal activity are a cancer, and it would be desirable to compel sponsors to raise the living standards of their low wage employees. Whether that's enforceable or not is another question.

The same result could be achieved if (1) fewer foreign workers were admitted, and(2) they were not tied to a single employer but could sell their services to the highest bidder.

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