Saudi Arabia: Campaign for democratic trade union rights

Yahya Al-Faifi has had to seek refuge in Swansea because the Saudi Arabian government has deemed that he is guilty of the ‘crime’ of trying to organize his fellow workers.

What makes this worse is that Yahya was sacked by a British company – British Aerospace in Daharan air base in June 2002.

Under Saudi labor laws, it is unlawful to form or be a member of a trade union, there are no collective bargaining rights and it is illegal for workers to take industrial action and no minimum wage. The whole legal system is biased towards business. Consequently, while workers from countries such as the UK and Australia have fully protected contracts, terms and conditions of Saudi workers are often unenforceable in court.

Yahya was sacked because he dared to organize a meeting, not even to try and set up a trade union but just to allow employees to discuss their response to a new contract which would have meant a pay cut. Five hundred workers attended the meeting but the company’s response was to dismiss Yahya on his vacation. The company set up a union after this but it is staffed by government agents. Anyway, why establish a genuine union after sacking someone who is accused of organizing one?

Yahya took his case to the labor law courts. While normally, there is a time limit of 6 weeks for such cases, he argued his case for 18 months, without any financial assistance. However, Yahya lost his case despite the judge openly agreeing that 14 articles of law had been violated, and that the decision was ordered by the Minister of Defense!

Yahya took his case to the King as well as the International Labor Organization and Human Rights Watch. By this time, he was suffering from state persecution with 24 hour surveillance from government agents. He became concerned that he would suffer from the Saudi government’s hard-line approach to workers’ organization which could have resulted in a 15-year prison sentence. Later on a group of Saudi academics and lawyers were jailed for between 6-9 years for merely petitioning the government for civil and trade union rights! He predicted their verdict early enough, so he had no choice but to seek refuge abroad, leaving his 17 years old son behind who was visiting his grand mother in another city due to time shortage, and complicated family reasons hoping that the Saudi authorities wouldn’t blame a son for of his father "crime".

Successive British governments have had a long-standing business relationship with Saudi Arabia. British Aerospace alone has been in the country for the last 40 years. Their workforce in Britain would be furious to know that their Saudi counterparts are denied basic trade union and hence, human rights. Yahya has come to Swansea Trade Union Council for assistance in his campaign for Saudi workers to have the genuine, democratic trade union freedoms that we take for granted. He believes that our movement can put pressure on both the British government and British Aerospace to pushing the case with the Saudi government.

Please support our campaign. If you would like Yahya to speak to a meeting of your organization or if you want more information – phone : 07876065174


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July 2005