|Threat of the Migrant Worker |
Tariq A. Al-Maeena, email@example.com
After reading enough in the local press about the threat to and the ill-effects on our society from the presence of a large number of migrant and semi-skilled workers in this country, I have to ask this question: Can we really get by without their presence? Before I answer this question myself, let me list some of the activities these workers are currently engaged in.
Starting off with our municipal workers, it is not hard to notice the large number of expatriate workers industriously engaged in keeping our roads and cities clean, and our trash carted away. As our cities strain from a growing population, so does the amount of litter and garbage that has to be catered to, and it is being judiciously done by the migrant workers.
Our booming construction has placed a high demand on the number of workers required — some to carry cement sacks, others to shovel and dig, and still some more to prepare the ground for the foundations the structures would rise from.
Also perched precariously high on the scaffolds of some tall buildings, these workers daily put their lives at risk. For them, there is no safety net of a comprehensive medical insurance, and working conditions often hover above 100 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity. Again this task is primarily being performed by the migrant worker.
Our streets and roads are being dug out for the umpteenth time for laying out a sewage network. Guess who is primarily involved in the actual digging and setting of the massive pipes for these projects? It certainly isn’t any Saudi that I know of.
Trees get pruned and grass in public parks mowed and watered diligently by the migrant worker. The waste from our septic tanks is flushed out and carted off by tankers by operators primarily from African countries. And owing to the highly inefficient water distribution network, potable water to our homes is being delivered by tankers driven by Asians.
When we have to get around and use taxis or limousines, we are usually carted around by expatriate drivers. And when our personal vehicles need to be serviced or repaired, they are generally accomplished by expatriates.
As we shop for our groceries it is the Asian who bags our purchases and delivers them to our cars. And around the house, if there is a need for plumbing or electrical work, guess who is available to do the job and without much fuss? Want to install curtains or re-upholster your furniture? There are plenty of expatriates who will do the work quickly and effectively.
Our factories and other industries employ a large number of migrant workers, often resigned to pitiful living and working conditions and very low wages, but yet the job gets done without complaint. In some cases, their circumstances are an affront to the human rights defined in our religion.
The list can go on and on, but the point is clear.
Most of these tasks are being undertaken by migrant workers because Saudis will not do them. These workers are not taking jobs away from Saudis; instead they are performing a service essential to all of us and in most cases they are doing them well.
And so to the growing legion of Saudi writers and commentators who are quick to point our ills at the direction of this group of workers I ask: Where would we be without them? Let us not delude ourselves into believing that Saudis today would readily fill in these posts and professions. One would not stumble upon a sizable number of Saudis queuing for such professions held by these expatriate workers.
Instead of criticizing their presence, let us appreciate their contributions. Many leave homes and families behind to eke out a meager existence and save a little every month to send home. Many are subjected to deplorable living conditions, their rights violated in every form and yet they remain faithful to the task and perform it uninterrupted and without protest.
They stick to themselves, rarely intrusive and more often abused. And if there are a few miscreants among them who get into criminal activities, are not some Saudis guilty of the same? To target an entire group or nationality for the misdeeds of a few among them is a gross defilement.
Should we instead not get off our high pedestals and recognize that they really are of no threat in any form to our society?
The real threat lies in the lazy and sluggish attitude exhibited by some of our Saudi work force whose expectations of salary and benefits far exceed their abilities.
Let me put a rest to all who call for action against the migrant workers. They are not pariahs or rejects, but the silent and rarely acknowledged stalwarts that oil the machinery that helps run the rest of us. Let us show some gratitude for a change.