Lawyer cautions workers on staging strikes

JEDDAH: Striking has, of late, become a new trend in Saudi Arabia. Workers in many big companies went on strike during the past few days calling for special rights.

Among others, these included the employees of the Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC) working in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah, Qasim and Abha.

They objected to the company’s policy of inequality in the payment of after-service emoluments. They also claimed that the company only paid a promised two months’ salary bonus, originally ordered by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for government employees and high-education students, to senior officials and heads of sections.

Employees of the Saudi Electricity Company working in many power stations also went on strike.  An employee from the company’s power generation plant in Riyadh said about 80 percent of the staff at power generation stations all over the Kingdom joined the strike.

The strikers established a page on social networking site Facebook under the title: “The Preoccupations of the Electricity Company’s Employees.” So far, the page has attracted more than 1,800 of the company’s employees. They handed over a petition with their demands to the company’s CEO Ali Al-Barak in the presence of a representative from the Ministry of Interior. He promised to favorably consider their demands.

The company’s staff also called for the implementation of the 15 percent salary rise ordered by King Abdullah when he came to power in 2005 and the 15 percent hike in the cost of living allowance.

At least 1,000 employees from Saudi Ojer company, which is contracted to operate the King Fahd Qur’an Printing Complex in Madinah, went on strike objecting to the low pay. They rejected an offer by the company to increase their salary, which does not exceed SR2,000, by SR500.

Madinah Gov. Prince Abdul Aziz bin Majed ordered the establishment of a committee from the Governorate to investigate the causes of the strike. The five-man committee met with the strikers and promised to resolve all their problems within two months.

Saudis are split in opinion on this wave of strikes. While some citizens support strikes, believing that they would bear fruit, others doubt their legality and see them as futile.

“I think strikes will achieve good results. I have not participated in any strike before but I believe that they will ultimately have some good results,” said Nasser Al-Harbi, a 27-year-old employee of a security company. He was not sure if striking was legal or not but claimed they would deliver good results.  “The strikes have been beneficial to the staff of the Electricity Company and the Saudi Ojer Company,” he added.

Thirty-five year old Fahd Al-Jarshan agrees with Al-Harbi on the usefulness of strikes and said employees from a number of private companies are suffering from many injustices.

Abdullah Saleh, a 42-year old employee of an oil company, does not see any point in strikes.  “They only harm people. Imagine if the staff of hospitals went on strike? Who would take care of the patients?” he questioned.

Lawyer Khaled Abu Rashid said strikes are totally forbidden because they are against the law. He pointed out that under article 80 of the Labor Law an employee would be warned if he is absent from work for five days and then fired after 10 days. “There is nothing in the Saudi system of rule that allows strikes,” he added.

A royal decree issued by King Saud bin Abdul Aziz prevented all forms of strikes and threatened anyone who did so with harsh punishments.

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