A strike by hundreds of health workers at a Saudi hospital has entered its fifth day as labor conditions get worse in the cash-strapped kingdom.
More than 1,200 employees at the Saad Specialist Hospital in the eastern Saudi city of Khobar have walked out of their jobs for not being paid since May, the Middle East Eye reported.
The industrial action, which involves both Saudi nationals as well as expat employees, comes despite a strict ban by the Saudi regime on all industrial and trade union activities.
“It’s very unusual for Saudis not to be paid.… I have been here six years and it’s the first time I have heard of it,” said a British doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity over fear of losing the job.
“It’s either pay up, or we’re not going back to work,” said an American doctor, on condition of anonymity.
A Jordanian nurse also said, “Surgeons, management, doctors, [and] nurses … Westerners, Asians, and Saudis, are all taking action together.”
She said the strike has no leader and was simply organized in social media groups, including WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook.
“All of us talked together and decided to go on strike,” she added.
The hospital is part of the Saad Group which is owned by Saudi billionaire Maan al-Sanea.
In the past months, due to lack of cash, expats have been moved to company-owned compounds where the living conditions are poor and maintenance workers have been on strike for several months over unpaid wages.
Expat women are confined to stay inside the compounds as they have no money to hire a man-driver to take them out, and Saudi law does not allow women to drive.
However, the low-ranking expat maintenance workers, mostly from south Asian countries, are said to be suffering the most.
A British doctor said he had witnessed violence being used against the striking workers from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
“Maintenance workers live like prisoners… They get by on food parcels from their embassies who also give them healthcare visits,” he said.
A Saudi nurse said expats “do not have enough money for their children to pay for their food or take them to school,” adding, “I am Saudi and I live with my family but what about the foreign staff?”
This is while Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a financial crisis.
High-profile Saudi companies, including Saudi Oger and the Binladin Group, have not paid wages to tens of thousands of their workers for periods of up to two years.
Analysts attribute the kingdom’s money shortage to a sharp drop in the price of oil, the country’s main source of income.
Another reason cited by analysts for the cash shortage in Saudi Arabia is the costly war against Yemen.