Strike at privately-run Saudi hospital after salary delays

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) " Employees at one of Saudi Arabia's largest privately-run hospitals were on strike Monday to protest nearly four months of salary delays, the latest in a series of similar incidents to impact workers in the kingdom.

A non-medical staffer at the Saad Specialist Hospital in the eastern city of al-Khobar told The Associated Press that around 200 employees are on strike, and that the number is growing. The strike began around three weeks ago, but picked up steam on Sunday and Monday after Eid holidays.

Speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, the Saudi staffer says the last time workers were paid salaries was in May. She said doctors and nurses are among those on strike, but that emergency care workers and some medical practitioners are not striking to care for patients most in need.

She said the hospital's management has not given employees any indication as to when they can expect payment or why salaries have not yet been paid. She said the Labor Ministry has so far been unable to resolve the issue, despite meeting with staff members several times.

"The most basic right of ours is for there to be transparency so we know what's happening and can understand what to expect," she said. "All we have heard are rumors and we want to know exactly what's happening."

She said before employees can quit their jobs, they must sign a document that states they have received their due wages and rights. Signing the document is a prerequisite for foreign employees at the hospital who need exit permits to leave the country. Saudi employees could also face problems being hired elsewhere without signing the document.

The hospital's website says it employs around 5,000 people, with around 19 percent being Saudi nationals. The 15-year-old medical facility was considered one of the top hospitals in the region, attracting doctors from all over the world, until 2009 when financial woes impacted its owner Maan al-Sanea.

Al-Sanea is the founder and chairman of Saad Group, which owns and operates the hospital. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saad Group, which has a number of interests, lists its civil engineering, construction and property investment company as one of its main divisions.

The construction sector in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf has been hard-hit by a drop in global oil prices, which has slowed down government spending on major infrastructure projects.

Thousands of employees at several of the kingdom's largest construction firms, including the Saudi Binladin Group and Saudi Oger, have complained of months-long delays in their wages and hundreds have staged protests.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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