Saturday, January 7, 2012

Runaway Employees

You've probably heard about the runaway employees in Saudi-Arabia. Most of these workers are Asian so called cheap labor that work as maids or drivers. They are a huge problem in the Kingdom. To bring in a maid or a driver the employer must pay fees and visa charges from 5000-10,000 SAR. If the employee "escapes" they will get no compensation and the runaway worker will be deported, if caught.

A lesser known and much less common but real phenomenon are the western runaway employees. I have witnessed several such cases where employees made a disappearing act on their employer. All cases were western medical staff, men and women.

The hospital pays even more to recruit the highly sought after western employees, around 20,000 SAR each. It is naturally in their best interest to keep the employees satisfied and working within the company for at least their one year contract which is the most common for nurses to sign on for.

So what happens, why do the employees run away? And where to?

Unlike the Asian runaways that always stay in the country working in the blackmarket, their western partners in crime run back to their home countries.

The reasons are numerous, but most commonly it's the easiest way out for the employee to just disappear if they are not liking life in Saudi-Arabia. Resigning and the final exit process takes months and many stressful hours of going from one office to another, gathering signatures, stamps and all sorts of paperwork before the employee is allowed to leave the Kingdom. By completeing the final exit process the employee recieves their annual or end of contract bonus as well.
Leaving without a trace might be easier for the employee, but morally I would say it is WRONG.

Like I mentioned, the employer pays and does a great deal of work to recruit a western worker. The process of the final exit is there for a reason, although it could be done more swiftly without all the bureaucratic nonsense, the employee has still signed a contract and running away is breaking that contract. I don't see these very people violating their employment contacts in their home countries, so where does this disrespect stem from?

Personally I never understood why those people chose to escape, rather than to just honestly resign and leave the Kingdom with dignity and not as a refugee of some sort. In most cases the employee had only a few months to go after the contact would have ended in any case. So why not just hang in there for a little but longer? I'm such a tough cookie myself that I would say you can even stand on your head for two months, rather than make a fool out of yourself or to be dishonest.

Most of the runaways I knew hated life and work in the Kingdom, or could not cope at all and one got engaged and ran away to get married. The employees left for their annual leave with an exit re-entry visa and never returned. They packed up as much of their stuff as they could and in fear of getting caught did not tell anyone of their plans until they were outside the Kingdom. Once home they called the employer and their friends that they will never return. This leaves the employer in trouble and also the friends in a situation where they might feel betrayed and also forced to pack the rest of the belongings and send it over to the escapee.
Needless to say the runaway would have a hard time trying to find employment again in Saudi-Arabia, but I doubt it has a big impact on their future employment in their home countries.

What do you think of these runaway employees? Are they doing the right thing? Is it ok to break the contract in a country they will most likely never return to? Is it acceptable for them to leave without notifying the employer if they feel very stressed out?

22 comments:

Soile said...

I totally agree with you, and I especially never really understood people running away when they only had a couple of months to go. If you survived 9-10 months, surely you could manage the last few, and walk away with a nice bonus as well!

Noor said...

I had never thought about westerns doing that and it does seem silly as they could leave if they wanted to pretty much. I rather just have a clean slate and do it the right way if I was them..

//aNNiKa said...

Interesting that people's conscience actually lets them do that and leave the employer in trouble.
It just occurred to me though, that could it be that the people who run a way could have gotten a job somewhere else and don't really have time to wait for the contract to end or leave the country and the job in a "proper and legal way". In case it really is that slow and troublesome to resign over there. Maybe they just want to leave so bad and already have a "new life" or job waiting for them somewhere else. Not that it makes it any better to leave without saying a thing.

Chick Flick Journal said...

I agree with you. out of experience most of the runaway employees end up in big trouble or leading a much more hectic life than what they had before.

Anonymous said...

Salaam,but what about the muslims who runaway, can they ever return to perform haj or umrah?

Om Lujain© said...

I have witnessed this often... even as far as dumping the company car in some unknown place and taking a taxi to the airport! Some we have known had left with company owned laptops, mobiles etc. I think it is wrong! Can u imagine if they ever become Muslim? They would have a veryyy hard time getting a hajj or 3mra visa!

Laylah said...

Soile-I know, to me it makes no sense, why "suffer" 10 months then leave with only a few more weeks to go, not getting bonus and forever ruining your job opportunities in Saudi-Arabia.

Laylah said...

Noor-exactly,would be best to leave with clean slate, especially if the next employer asks for job certificate from previous workplace, and they have nothing to show, isn't that a bit shady?

Laylah said...

Annika-it is weird because the same people would not do it back home..All of the people I know who did this did not have any job waiting back home, on the contrary they were going to take a small holiday before returning.

Laylah said...

CFJ-well the western employee does not end up with much trouble back home, other than of course not having any proof of having worked there. But those Asian runaways do put themselves in a really stressful and even dangerous situation..

Laylah said...

Om Lujain-wow I didn't know that! So it's not only the medical field it seems it's pretty wide spread phenomenon among western expats, unfortunately!

Gives a really bad and unreliable impression of that nationality! We should remember that people tend to generalize things like this really easily and start saying oh those "x" nationality are so dishonest!

Anonymous said...

It would be nice to say that all people, all over the world, should honour contracts with employers.

In some cases, I understand that employers have to spend money to secure ex-pat staff for all kinds of bureaucratic reasons. I'm not sure that that makes it the responsibility of the ex-pats though and, from what I have read, leaving before the end of a contract can be just as bureaucratic.

I don't know this for a fact, but it may be that ex-pats are concerned that if they try to leave before the contract ends, they may fear that the employer will simply stop paying them. Just a thought . .

Also, it would be great if everyone was able to grin and bear difficulties and honour commitments, regardless of how bad an experience they were having.

Life ain't like that though and in the end, people should be free to make and/or break commitments and learn from their experiences.

Cinnamon Snow said...

It's dishonest. At the same time ,what does the situation looks like when an employer want to fire the employee? Is it "ok, we want to terminta the contract with you so you have one month of work then one more month on the visa to either find a new job or pack your stuff and leave" or is it" leave now, your visa will be cancelled and you have X time to leave?

Meraj Khattak said...

It is dishonesty simply. I think they should wait till the contract term ends and then the job with dignity and honor.

But I also heard (from Asians mostly), that the contract they signed was of one amount and then upon joining job they started getting less amount where employers were not giving them about 10% or more of their salaries as they wanted to keep it as security so they couldn't escape. Even in that case, some escapes back to home or start working some other places.

Laylah said...

Cinnamon Snow-the policy for termination of contract is stated in the initial employment contracts really clearly and there are usually grave reasons for termination, they can't just do it without any reasons. The timeline is 2 months usually.

Laylah said...

Meraj-that rarely ever happens, at least I never heard that a western employee was not paid what they were promised. Unfortunately it's often the asians that are conned by some employers!

Geoff said...

Hi Laylah,

I know I'm a little late to this conversation but in light of recent events in my life in Saudi, I thought I would mention something. As an American totally new to the idea of a work "contract", I checked the salary and terms carefully. One huge mistake I made was believing verbal promises AKA lies. I was promised either a housing allowance or first class accommodations. I arrived and was placed in a bug ridden "apartment hotel" that did not provide towels, toilet paper or room cleaning of any kind. I was there for almost 4 months. I was promised by my recruiter the ability to travel, in fact it was touted as a great advantage to working here. I was told that on a weekend or short work week, I could hop a flight to Mumbai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Egypt...wherever I wanted, as long as I returned to work at the appointed time. Upon my arrival I had to surrender my passport in order to receive my Iqama and it has not been returned to me but has rather been "stored for safety" at an office in another part of the Kingdom. After months of trying to rectify these two situations we have managed to receive half of our housing allowances. Our passports are still being held, and after sending three written requests for their return and an entry exit visa, was finally told 2 weeks ago that the owner has decided that in the interests of keeping employees safe they may not leave the Kingdom except on annual leave. I have done my best to argue, written additional requests and have even gently suggested that due to this problem, I may not renew my contract.

I have been told by fellow expats of non-American origin to "stomp my feet" and threaten to go to the US embassy with my complaints. I have so far avoided doing this and hope to be able to work this out with someone. Our owner and sponsor is in poor health, is not available to us (I've never even met him). An Egyptian expat and I were talking, I asked him if this situation wasn't "Haram", he said "no, not really, not in the eyes of a Saudi", First of all you're not Saudi, second of all you're not Saudi, thirdly your not Muslim. Lying to you in the recruitment process is considered simply the means that justify the end result.

In light of this...I will probably finish my "time" and not renew my contract, I might, I don't know yet...But if this is the way employers treat their employees in the Kingdom, than I can understand "running away" completely.

Anonymous said...

Many reasons that people runaway:

1. Bureaucratic process
2. Timelines for new job
3. Pay not on time or not at all
4. Employer dishonored contract (housing issues (mold, location, other), work environment)
5. Promised travel, not allowed
6. Withholding passports
7. Watching the emergency leave for 60 year old man delay 3 or 4 weeks, then he received surgery upon arrival in U.S.
8. Disrespect for expertise
9. and ultimately a family emergency

These were all reasons my roommate did not re-enter after leaving for a family health-related emergency. My colleagues and I heard that his grandfather was on his death bed, but sort of assumed that the story may or may not be true because the other reasons make a stronger case.

This happened 1.5 years ago and now we want him to come back for a conference to recruit students to his university. Any idea what his legal status might be and if he could be granted a business visa for such a short term trip?

Thanks for sharing the knowledge!

Anonymous said...

SALAMUALAIKUM BROTHER AND SISTERS IN ISLAM AND THOSE WHO ARE NOT LET ME EXTEND MY SALAM. IM MUSLIM WOMEN I DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO I REALLY FEEL BAD IN MY WORK. I WORKED IN A HOSPITAL ITS A PRIVATE HOSPITAL IN SAUDI. AND IT WAS HAPPEN THAT OUR FAMILY IS UN NEED OF MONEY. AND THAT TIME NO OPPRTUNITIES KNOCK AT MY DOOR. THEN IM IN A HURRY TO WORK I REALLY WANT TO WORK BANDLY. THEN IT CAME IT HIRE A CLEANER IN THAT HOSPITAL IN SAUDI I DIDN'T THINK WISELY I JUST QUICKLY GRAB THAT JOB. AND AFTER 2 MONTHS IT WAS MY FLIGHT TO GO ABROAD. BUT THEN IM HERE ALREADY IT WAS A BIG BIG TERIBLE DECECION IVE MADE ASTAGFIRULLAH.THAT AGENCY IN MANILA WERE ALL LIER ALL LIES. THE SALARY THE TIME OF WORK IS NOT ALL TRUE. IT SAYS THERE IN CONTRCT THAT I WILL BE WORKONG FOR 8 HRS ONLY ANF IN 1 WK I HAVE OFF FAY AND IF WE WANT TO DO OVER TIME ITS UP TO US ITS AN OPTIONAL.BUT, SUDDENTLY WE CANT COMPLAIN NO DAY OFF FOR 1 MONTH AND WORKING HRS 16 HRS JUST IMAGINE. IVE SUFFERED AND SACRIFICE FOR 1 MONTH 16 HRS WORKING INB THAT PARTICULAR AREA IN OR IT WAS VERY STRESSFUL WORK IVE EVER MADE IN MY WHOLE LIFE.AND NOW IM PLANNING TO ESCAPE BROTHERS AND SISTER WHAT WILL I DO.

Anonymous said...

SALAM BROTHERS AND SISTER. LET US NOT JUDGE SOMEONE WHO JUST RANAWAY. FOR SURE THEY HAVE THEIR GOOD REASONS FOR THAT. TO THE EXTEND THEY DECIDED TO DO THAT. SALAM.

Layla said...

hi there! Sorry to hear they are treating you so badly. Could you try and contact your embassy before you make any decisions, try and call them and ask for advice.

Carol Williams said...

I have just discovered your blog and find it extremely interesting. Sorry this is so late but I have only been in Saudi Arabia for around 9 months and have had both positive and negative experiences. Regarding the comments about expats running away I can fully understand why they may do this. I am a Brit teaching in the Kingdom and like other bloggers have been lied to since the day I signed my contract in the UK. Lied to about working conditions, accommodation allowances, transport allowances, etc, etc. Many of my colleagues have experienced the same lies. I was also put into a cockroach infested hotel apartment with absolutely no basic facilities. (Not the compound I was promised) I arrived here with a contract for a university in Riyadh and was immediately sent to another city. I am currently trying to find out exactly when my contract finishes and cannot get a straight answer. Emails and telephone calls are ignored. Having the ability to travel to other parts of the Middle East, which was my plan, is a joke. Despite being promised a multiple exit visa I have never received one. The reason given by my manager "The company are scared that with this freedom I might try to escape". What does that say about their treatment of foreign employees!!!
In spite of all my complaints I have met some amazing people here, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching the Saudi Girls and will complete my contract.