Employee Mistreatment

The other day I was shopping at Tamimi (the grocery store on campus). I grabbed two bags of tortilla chips, noting the price marked on the shelf. I have recently started doing this because, as you will read, the prices aren't always the same at checkout. For about half of the things I grab, there isn't even a price tag, so I usually end up with two or three things to price check at the register before I buy them. So anyways, I saw that the chips were 8.25 SAR ($2.20) each. Don't ask me why they price things in portions of Riyals, even though Tamimi doesn't use coins.

After checkout, while going over the receipt, I saw that the chips had rung up as 10 SAR ($2.60) each. So I went over and grabbed the tags off the shelf and took them and the chips over to the manager. The date that it was made is printed on the price tag, and I noticed that it was made the same day, so I assumed that their check out system had screwed up. But no, the price had changed. Yes, the price changes here more than once per day. The manager told me, in pretty okay English, that the person who is supposed to change the price tags whenever the price changes has had problems before and he will punish him and give me the 4 Riyals. I mentioned to the manager that they really need more staff, but he said that they were just lazy. He said that the employee would not be paid this week because he screwed up. Maybe he was trying to show me that he was doing something about it, but it really made me uncomfortable. I told him that I didn't want that, and he seemed to understand me.

After hearing rumors of Tamimi and Saudi Oger not paying their employees and holding their passports hostage, I don't doubt that he would have followed through on his threat. For the most part, the workers here are really nice, and they really should be treated better.

Sadly, in Saudi Arabia this is not uncommon at all.  A large percent of the expatriates here are foreign workers from South East Asia and other Middle East countries.  These workers are primarily here to do the work that Saudi's deem below them such as maintenance, cleaning, cooking, and driving.  Many instances of abuse have made it to mainstream news, although I'm sure many more do not.  As to the passport issue, this a widespread practice here in Saudi Arabia and is used as a way to prevent workers from switching employers or returning home. The employers who are responsible for obtaining the iqama, or residence card, for the workers have also been rumored to not do so, thus further preventing workers from leaving, as they would be seen as in the country illegally.

Even here on campus, life is not rosy for domestic workers.  Some families have brought domestic worker (think nannies) with them from their previous home, and as domestic workers, they are not permitted to travel off campus without written permission from the family employing them.  So even a short trip to Jeddah, or nearby Thuwal requires a signed permission slip.

Do we continue to fight for accurate pricing, knowing that it is the responsibility of the store to honor the prices listed?  Losing 4 SAR at the store is a pittance for us; it's just over a dollar, so is the knowledge that a worker will lose a week of pay worth an extra dollar?

Undoubtedly, he needs it more than we do.