Saudi Oger’s troubles continue as private sector offers help
London - A number of Saudi companies have offered to hire workers stranded without pay for months by former construction powerhouse Saudi Oger.
Fifty Saudi companies offered to absorb the contracts of 2,500 Indian labourers. Representatives of the companies are negotiating with Saudi Oger to finalise the transfer of employees with the Saudi Ministry of Labour supervising the process, the Jeddah-based Arab News reported.
Rumours that the construction firm would be liquidated were widespread, with fears growing in Lebanon regarding employment prospects for its nationals in the kingdom and in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a whole.
Unofficial estimates set the number of Lebanese employed by Saudi Oger in the kingdom at about 9,000. They are likely to return home due to current circumstances.
According to Beirut-based economist Kamel Wazne the impact of the Saudi Oger crisis goes beyond Lebanese employees. Other huge companies in Saudi Arabia are also under the threat of bankruptcy.
He said the regional economic climate and Saudi Arabia re-endorsing its Saudisation initiative to counter local unemployment would affect Lebanese employment. The unemployment rate in Lebanon — currently more than 20% — could jump to higher than 40% with the return of Lebanese nationals from Gulf Arab countries, he added.
However, analyst Ghalib Oboumsaleh said the main problem was the structure of the Lebanese economy, which, since the 1990s, has focused on nourishing the banking sector and not on the creation of jobs.
He said the exodus of Lebanese nationals from the Gulf actually began in 2000 because of many factors, including the cost of retaining Lebanese employees in comparison to those from Asia. He added that the Lebanese tend to get involved in political issues related to the country they are residing in and that is something that is unacceptable in Saudi Arabia and the GCC.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud issued directives to settle the cases of thousands of stranded migrant workers in the kingdom, mostly from Saudi Oger, according to the Saudi Labour Ministry. The ministry reported receiving more than 31,000 complaints of unpaid wages related to Saudi Oger.
The government of France has contacted Riyadh over the unpaid salaries of a number of its nationals working for Saudi Oger, some who are owed ten months’ pay.
“Talks between the Saudi and French governments to solve the salary crisis are still under way but a solution is yet to be found,” a source at the French embassy told the Saudi daily Okaz. The source added that most French nationals have left for home but that some remained in the kingdom in order to resolve their cases.
Saudi Oger, which is owned by the family of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, owes an estimated $800 million in back pay and employment severance. That figure does not include money owed to contractors and exporters or loans from local and international banks.
Contrary to reports in the Lebanese media, there are no known plans for the Saudi government to bail it out of its financial predicament or assume ownership of the firm.