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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Saudi cleric preaches workers' rights
Saudi gold shop
Foreigners are banned from working in jewellery shops
Saudi Arabia's grand mufti, the highest Muslim authority in the kingdom, has warned Saudi employers that abusing foreign labour is un-Islamic.

"Blackmailing and threatening (foreign) labourers with deportation if they refuse the employers' terms which breach the contract is not allowed" in Islam, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said in a religious ruling published in Al-Madinah daily newspaper on Monday.

Grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh
The grand mufti urges respect for foreign workers
"Islam does not permit oppressing workers regardless of religion ... As we ask them to perform their duty, we must fulfil our duty and comply with the terms of the contract," he said.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz, head of the Council of Senior Ulemas, or religious clerics, called on employers to stop "exploiting and oppressing the weak workers" by violating contracts.

In Saudi Arabia, abuse of foreign domestic servants is widespread, especially in the homes of the wealthy, according to Amnesty International.

The kingdom is currently trying cut its high unemployment rate by banning foreigners from working in 35 business sectors.

Dishonesty

Foreign workers have complained that they are forced to pay high fees for residence renewal, work permits and health insurance in violation of their contracts.

About seven million foreigners work and live in Saudi Arabia, which has a population of 22 million.

Like many other Gulf states, the kingdom operates a sponsorship law for foreign workers which gives employers considerable power in contracting labour.

The mufti warned employers against withholding agreed salaries or delaying payment under the threat of deportation, saying "this is illegal and a form of dishonesty" in Islam.

The Saudi ministry of labour said last year that 19,000 foreign maids had fled the homes of their employers.

Amnesty claims that domestic violence is the major reason.

Many labourers come from the Middle East, South Asia and East Asian countries.

See also:

10 Jul 02 | Business
27 Apr 02 | Middle East
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