The Saudi Arabian labor force is comprised of approximately 7.12 million workers. These workers enjoy few rights. The formation of unions is strictly prohibited, strikes are forbidden, and there is no collective bargaining. In the absence of a minimum wage, employers are free to pay their workers as they see fit.
While forced labor is against the law, abuses do occur, especially in remote areas and in the domestic service industry, where there have been reports of maids being forced to work up to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Employees have little freedom of movement, and cannot leave the country or even travel out of the region without their employer's permission.
According to labor regulations, the work week is 48 hours. Employers can require 12 additional hours of overtime at time-and-a-half pay. The law requires workers to be given a rest period of 24 hours, which is generally granted on Fridays, the Muslim sabbath. Labor laws, however, do not apply to domestic servants, who have little redress for any poor treatment they might receive. Those who run away are generally returned to their employers.
The International Labor Organization has cited Saudi Arabia for failing to adhere to conventions on equal pay, for continuing gender segregation in the work place, and for limiting vocational programs for women. Additionally, in 1995 Saudi Arabia was suspended from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) insurance programs for its failure to guarantee the rights of its workers as recognized by international norms.
According to human rights reports, foreign workers run the risk of being exploited. Workers recruited in foreign countries may be pressured after arriving in Saudi Arabia to sign new contracts with less favorable terms, or they may be pressured to accept lower pay than originally promised. Once in Saudi Arabia, workers may also find their freedom of movement restricted. Employers may refuse to grant them exit visas, making it impossible for them to return home.
Saudi nationals in general receive higher pay than non-nationals, especially in the agricultural sector, where Saudi citizens can make up to 3 times that of their foreign counterparts. The Saudi government has taken steps to introduce minimum wage requirements for foreign workers, making it more costly for employers to hire them. In this way the government hopes to spur more employment opportunities for Saudi citizens.