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Saudi Arabia jails and flogs workers for unpaid wage protests

Local media reports workers sentenced to prison and given 300 lashes for destruction of public property and inciting unrest
Seven buses were set ablaze in Mecca on Saturday by workers over unpaid wages (Twitter)

Dozens of foreign workers have been sentenced to flogging and jail for unrest during protests over unpaid wages by Saudi Binladin Group several months ago, reports said on Tuesday.

Al-Watan newspaper and Arab News did not give the nationalities of the 49 workers, and foreign embassy staff in the kingdom contacted by AFP could not immediately provide details.

Al-Watan, which has followed the Binladin case since early last year, said an unidentified number were sentenced to four months' jail and 300 lashes for destroying public property and inciting unrest.

Others were jailed for 45 days by a court in Mecca.

Construction sector workers, chiefly at the Binladin Group and Saudi Oger, were left waiting for pay after a collapse in oil revenues left the kingdom unable to pay private firms it had contracted.

Arab News reported in May that "unpaid workers" had set fire to several Binladin Group buses in Mecca.

Authorities confirmed at the time that seven buses were burned but did not give the cause.

A Saudi Binladin Group spokesman could not be reached on Tuesday.

The company, which developed landmark buildings in Saudi Arabia, was founded more than 80 years ago by the father of deceased Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

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Binladin Group late last year said it had completed payment to 70,000 sacked employees.

Workers still with the company would get their back pay as the government settled its arrears, the company said.

Tens of thousands of employees of Saudi Oger, led by Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri, were also waiting for wages.

One Oger worker told AFP in December that he had received part of the money but was still owed five months of pay.

The government said in November that it would pay its arrears to private firms by the following month.

READ: Migrant workers bear the brunt of Saudi's archaic system

But on 22 December, Finance Minister Mohammed Aljadaan, after releasing the 2017 national budget, said money owed to the private sector would be paid "within 60 days".

Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia send most of their earnings to families in their home country, who rely on the remittances to get by.

Tens of thousands of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia have suffered the consequences of a financial crisis caused by low oil prices that has seen the kingdom’s construction industry collapse.

Much of the crisis has centred on the Saudi government not paying contractors for public works.

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