A widespread paranoia has developed among expatriate workers who fear a reduction in their salaries after the introduction of a five-day week in the private sector.
A recent proposal by the Ministry of Labor recommended reducing the working week in Saudi Arabia from six to five days for the private sector. Expat workers greeted the proposal with anger and fear.
Hattab bin Saleh Al-Anzi, the director general of Public Relations and Media and spokesperson of Labor Ministry, told Arab News that the proposal would be submitted to the council of ministers in a few days.
“We haven’t submitted the proposal yet. Once the ministers’ council receives the proposal, they will investigate it and let us know their final decision,” he said.
Expat workers said they are sometimes urged to work overtime to gain more money. They claim that such an unfair proposal shouldn’t be implemented.
The proposal angers not only expatriate workers, but authorities in the trade and commerce sector too. Officials in chambers of commerce said that such a decision might lead to higher production costs, particularly for the industrial sector.
Some expats confirmed that companies have already alerted employees about a reduction of their salaries once the proposal gets approved.
“Many expat workers do not take a single day's leave all year, even if they are sick. Taking time off means a reduction in salary. This is why most of us (expatriates) choose to work year-round,” said Karim Shafiq, an Egyptian sales representative.
He added: “As a sales representative I used to get extra money for making sales. Taking an extra day off will stop me from making deals and reduce my profits about 30 percent.”
According to Karim, he used to get SR 4,000 per month plus 30 percent of sales profits. “Taking an additional four days off each month will reduce my productivity and certainly will reduce profits,” he said.
Helmi Hassan, a Jordanian dentist confirmed that some expat workers refused the extra day off because they had nothing to do at the weekend.
“I know a person working seven days a week might not do better quality work than someone focused on the task for only five days. Each person needs to take the time to rest, communicate with friends and live with family and practice sport. However, for many expats it is almost impossible to enjoy time off as their families are far away,” he said.
He added: “ For many expats an extra day off means additional free time and financial losses.”
Halima Mohammed, an Indonesian nurse who works for a private hospital, said an extra day off would mean a 20 percent cut in salary. “We can't afford a pay cut because the cost of living is too high. I wonder if the new decision will include all expat workers, especially nurses. My salary is only SR 2,500. A cut of 20 percent would influence my lifestyle. What is the need for an additional day off while our relatives are far away?” she asked.
Ayman Radi, a Syrian accountant working for a private construction company, said that even if he was willing to take a pay cut in exchange for a five-day workweek, he might still end up having to work on weekends.
“If I were to take a 20 percent pay cut, does that mean my workload would be reduced by 20 percent too? I think that is highly unlikely. I am already working outside of working hours to complete my work. This suggestion would only reduce our income but not our workload,” he said.
Radi said that the Ministry of Labor had warned companies against salary reduction but would not be able to monitor all companies in the Kingdom.
“My suggestion is the decision should be made optional for workers. Employees should be asked if they are want two days off or not. My colleagues and I would forgo this due to our workload and the expected reduction of our salaries,” he said.