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Saudi BinLaden workers will get paid: Labor Minister

A picture taken on March 9, 2016 shows towers under construction at the King Abdullah Financial District in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Towers in the complex are being built by the Saudi Oger company and other constructors. The unfinished buildings stand as a symbol of the hard times faced by Saudi Oger.
Fayez Nureldine | AFP | Getty Images
A picture taken on March 9, 2016 shows towers under construction at the King Abdullah Financial District in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Towers in the complex are being built by the Saudi Oger company and other constructors. The unfinished buildings stand as a symbol of the hard times faced by Saudi Oger.

Saudi Arabia's Labor Minister has told CNBC that workers at construction giant Saudi BinLaden Group, who have set fire to company buses in protest over unpaid wages and layoffs, will get paid.

Over the weekend, seven company buses were set alight by workers in the latest stage of protests by thousands of workers in Mecca and the coastal resort of Jiddah, with some saying that they had not been paid for six months, according to reports by the Associated Press.

According to local media reports, the company, one of the Middle East's largest builders with a workforce of 200,000, laid off 50,000 staff, Reuters reported.


However, speaking to CNBC, the country's Labor Minister, Mufrej Al-Haqbani, said that, while setting a timeline for government payments to construction firms was not his area, the BinLaden workers would get paid.

"I think, Inshallah, it will be solved and the company promised to solve all issues related to wages." he said.

"Workers have three choices: Stay and agree to stay and help company. His second choice is to transfer his contract to another employer and third to exit the country and assign someone to follow his rights at that company. So the rights of employees, you know, are protected and their choice to stay. This is what we are concerned about in labor market."

Dr Al-Haqbani added that the exact number of layoffs at the company was unclear but stressed that the protests seen over recent months and most recently this weekend would not be the new norm for Saudi Arabia.

"It is only a case or two cases," he said. "It is not a phenomenon and it isn't going to be. So, you know, two cases will never represent the state of the labor market in Saudi Arabia."

Hit by the falling oil price, many Gulf countries have reined in their spending on big construction projects, sometimes delaying payments. According to the Associated Press, Abdulrahman al-Zamil, the president of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, wrote an open letter to Saudi Arabia's King Salman warning that construction firms were struggling under the weight of delayed payments.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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