Saudi Arabia: Saudi Telecom Company disrupted by striking workers

Over a week ago there was a big protest held at the main office of Saudi Telecom (STC) in Mursalat (Riyadh) by workers at the company (Saudi nationals) while the Saudi Telecommunications Minister was on a visit to the company. The protesters were demanding an increment in wages, bonuses, overtime pay and other economic demands.

After the protests, the Minister left the area without meeting the protesters. After that the presence of the security forces was increased within the compound, to avoid any kind of such protest in the future. This protest was like an earthquake in this society, because the Saudi Arabian state has very rarely seen protests by government workers in the past.

The impact of this protest was shown within days. The King appeared on national TV, addressing the nation for about three minutes, using very harsh language against the protests. He asked the security forces to attack and eliminate any kind of protest. But everyone could see the impact and the fear of the Arab revolution in his speech.

The measure he announced in the previous days also revealed this fear. He announced a 15% increment in government employees’ wages, the creation of many new jobs in the security forces (a clear indication of their fear). He also announced a 1000/- Saudi riyals (US$250) per person unemployment allowance. But these steps cannot save the kingdom for long, because unemployment of locals is a big issue as are price hikes of food items.

An account of this strike and what it was about appeared in Arab News, which we are reproducing here for our readers:

STC work disrupted by striking workers (March15, 2011)

JEDDAH: A row over nonpayment of bonus to the majority of staff saw work at the Saudi Telecommunication Company (STC) offices in Riyadh disrupted for the second straight day.

The rumblings of the staff, following an internal e-mail specifying the distribution of the annual bonus, led to the strike by some workers in Riyadh, with the protest continuing for the second day in front of their office in Mursalat District, north of Riyadh.

Demonstration in front of the STC office demanded the removal of its CEO Saud Al-Dowaish. The workers, meanwhile, showed no sign of returning to work.

Comments and the status of the protest went viral on the social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook, with disaffected employees posting their views on these two sites.

Arab News tried to get verification from STC, but all attempts to reach an STC spokesman failed.

According to an STC employee, who did not want to be named, the problem started when an internal e-mail to employees stressed that the annual bonus would be given to employees in grade four and five only. This meant that only about 25 percent of the employees would receive bonuses.

This, according to the source, triggered the walkout, as employees objected to the company’s new decision.

According to informed sources, most service staff went on strike, including those providing 902, 905 and 907 services and 906 Internet services in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Qassim and Abha.

“Mainly those working in the 902, 905, 907 and 909 services are protesting the company's decision. It (STC) is just depriving us of additional payments from the annual reward system, which the company, in the past, gave to all employees,” said an STC employee who asked not to be named.

Amid all these, there were rumors that some of the jobs were to be outsourced to India and other countries, and this has added to the employees’ ire, the source said.

Arab News also learned that the disaffected employees fear that the pay rise of 15 percent, approved by the government, will not be given by STC to its employees, on the basis that it is no longer a government department.

Arab News tried to see if 905 services were restored, but while trying to get through to the right department the line cut. Even when we tried to get to the service via the operator, the connection snapped midway or there was no response.

Arab News also toured a number of STC offices in Jeddah to see if it was business as usual. Those present said that it was a normal business day, but refused to be drawn into the strike issue.

There were many comments on Facebook and tweets from employees on the issue.

The protesters also launched a campaign on Facebook against the company’s CEO, naming it “Together Against Saud Al-Dowaish, President of STC.” They demanded the resignation of Al-Dowaish.

The employees urged the company to be fair toward them and give them special bonuses for their work in the past, adding that the company had made huge profits as a result of their contributions.

The employees’ other demands were:

  • All contract workers hired to work on an hourly basis should be given all benefits.
  • The contract with an Indian recruitment company should be revoked
  • Employees should get promotions
  • Bonuses and other benefits should be paid
  • Protesters were also protesting against being outsourced to foreign companies.

Some tweets harped on nepotism and the need for the company to invest in the staff as its future success depended primarily on the skills of its human resources.

Others called for optimal working environment which would enable the workforce to make the company competitive and customer-friendly.

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