While much has been made of the poor working conditions under which many expat laborers work, the Saudi government is turning its eye to the group that may be the most abused of all: those working as shepherds, herdsmen, and agricultural workers on small farms. As the men work primarily for individuals rather than large companies, their working conditions tend to fall into the same category as domestic workers. But domestic workers generally work in urban areas, where there is at least the hope of finding friendships, support of their embassies, and recourse to Saudi legal institutions.

Not so the shepherds and small farmers who work far from the cities. They are, essentially, cut off from the world. They are so cut off that one can go 18 years without being paid as there’s no one nearby with whom to file a complaint.

Arab News reports that the Saudi government has introduced new rules governing their employment, seeking to assure fair dealing.

New rules to protect expat farmworkers, shepherds

The government has introduced new rules to provide further protection for expatriate farm workers and shepherds that include a limit on work visas issued to employers.

The rules also allow these workers to legalize their status, get new passports and change professions under the grace period ending on July 3.

A Saudi farmer who owns 200 acres of land can apply for four farm worker visas. The same number of visas is allowed for a Saudi owning more than 700 camels or 2,500 sheep or goats.

These farmers must produce bank statements to prove they can pay their workers and provide social insurance cover.

Farm workers have often complained about working conditions and nonpayment of salaries. The vast majority work in remote areas away from their fellow nationals and other expatriates.

This situation was highlighted recently when an Indian farm worker in Hail, Periya Swamy, said he had not been paid for 18 years. This resulted in an intervention by Hail Gov. Prince Saud bin Abdul Mohsen, who ordered his sponsor to pay what was owed to Swamy and send him home.

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