Arabtec chief says situation with unpaid Filipino workers in Saudi 'blown out of proportion'

The chief of Arabtec Construction pledged to pay all Filipino workers employed by a Saudi joint venture contractor in full.

Raja Hani Ghanma, the chief executive of UAE contractor Arabtec Construction, has said the plight of the workers had “been blown out of proportion”.

The National reported last week that the Philippines government’s Overseas Workers Welfare Administration had listed Arabtec Construction as one of nine companies whose Filipino workers have been offered grants in lieu of salaries or end-of-service payments owed by their employers.

“Let me get a few things straight. First of all, this is not Arabtec Construction we are talking about. This is Arabtec Saudi Arabia, which is a joint venture with the Saudi Binladin Group and another Saudi group, Mawrid Holding,” he said.

Mr Ghanma said that only a handful of Filipinos are on the books of Arabtec Saudi Arabia, and that they will all be repatriated with end-of-service benefits paid in full within the next month.

He said that Arabtec Saudi Arabia had only employed 479 Filipino workers. Of these, 222 have already been transported back to the Philippines (mostly on final exit visas with full end-of-service benefits) and 211 have had their papers transferred to other employers in Saudi Arabia.

“That leaves you with 46 people – 36 have absconded and we have 10 remaining with ­final exists in their hands [who] will be leaving at the end of the month,” he said.

He accepted that there had been problems at Arabtec Saudi Arabia, especially around the late payment of employees’ wages.

“I can’t say that everybody has been paid on time, but ultimately everybody gets paid and they get whatever entitlements [owed],” said Mr Ghanma.

When asked about the plight of other nationalities working for this joint venture, Mr Ghanma said: “We are trying our level best to sort it out, given the problems that our partner [Saudi Binladin Group] is suffering from. But we are not just going to leave people stranded.”

Arabtec Saudi Arabia was set up as a joint venture in 2009 and contains a number of subsidiaries including an MEP arm, a construction machinery company and a ready-mix concrete business. Notes to Arabtec Holding’s 2015 accounts show that at the end of 2014, these businesses had a net asset value of Dh860.5m. However, this shrank to Dh310.6m last year after a disastrous year’s trading during which it declared a loss of Dh520.8m from revenue of Dh358.7m.

At its peak, Arabtec Saudi Arabia and its subsidiaries employed almost 10,000 people, which has since shrunk to fewer than 1,000. Negotiations are continuing either to divest or wind down this business, Mr Ghanma said.

Despite this, he said that Arabtec Holding continues to view Saudi Arabia as an important market, which it will serve through its wholly owned subsidiary, Arabtec Construction.

“We’re still basically eyeing the Saudi market in a big way,” said Mr Ghanma. “Strategically, it is an important market for us. We feel it has great potential and we have something to offer in Saudi Arabia.”

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