Saudi continues ban on Thai workers
Saudi Arabia’s ban on Thai workers remains in place, with its interior ministry rejecting a Saudi labour ministry request to resume recruitment of maids from Thailand.
- Published: 11/03/2013 at 11:25 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
A cleaner disinfects public telephones at MBK shopping centre in Bangkok in this file photo from 2009. Saudi Arabia has upheld its ban on Thai workers after its labour ministry asked for permission to recruit Thai maids. Photo by Apichart Jinakul.
Diplomatic relations between Thailand and Saudi Arabia have been strained since the “blue diamond” affair of 1989, when a Thai janitor working in the Riyadh palace of Prince Faisal stole close to 100kg of jewellery, including a fabulous blue diamond.
Relations were further soured by the murders in 1989 and 1990 of four Saudi diplomats in Bangkok, and the disappearance in 1990 of Saudi citizen Mohammad al-Ruwaili, who lived in Thailand at the time.
According to the Saudi Gazette, local Arabic daily Al-Watan reported on Sunday that Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry had upheld its ban on Thai citizens working in the kingdom following a request by the Saudi labour ministry to lift it.
Saudi is suffering from a shortage of domestic workers due to restrictions placed on domestic workers by several foreign governments.
Sri Lanka is introducing a gradual ban on its citizens undertaking domestic work in the kingdom after a maid was executed in January over the death of an infant in her care.
Indonesia banned its citizens from working as maids in Saudi in 2011 when an Indonesian worker was beheaded after she was convicted of murdering her Saudi employer.
Saudi authorities did not inform the Indonesian embassy in Riyadh before carrying out the execution and the case followed several other reports of poor treatment and abuse of Indonesian maids in the kingdom.
Saudi has also stopped recruiting maids from the Philippines after it asked for contracts that would ensure improved working conditions and rights for housemaids.
Saudi labour ministry officials had identified Thailand as a potential recruitment pool to make up the shortfall in the domestic worker labour force.
In a letter to the interior ministry, the labour ministry said it wanted to end the monopoly of certain countries on the domestic worker market, saying that Thai housemaids are skilled and well trained.
Manpower investors in Saudi added that Thai housemaids were less costly to recruit and good at their jobs, according to the report.
Saudi Arabia banned all Thai labour, and all tourism to Thailand by its citizens in June, 1990.
Saudi medical tourists are however, permitted to travel to Thailand and Saudi also allows business visitors, under strict conditions.
Many Saudi tourists circumvent the ban by applying for visas in and travelling to Thailand from a third country in the Middle East.
Around 80,000 Saudis visited Thailand last year.
The Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry Council explains that Saudi tourists are banned from Thailand, but businessmen may be authorised under strict conditions. (Photo courtesy of Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry Council).
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said late last month that he was optimistic about attempts to mend fences with Saudi Arabia and added that Thailand was waiting for "positive signs" from Riyadh.
A government source said Thai and Saudi ministers were in regular contact in an attempt by Thailand to restore normal ties between the two countries. A key question is on how they could find common ground, leading to the return of their ambassadors to the respective countries.
Trying to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia is a key agenda for the government.
Mr Surapong has been assigned by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to chair a committee to restore ties with Saudi Arabia by tackling the blue diamond affair, the murder of the Saudi diplomats and the disappearance of Mr Al-Ruwaili.
Before the ban was implemented, Saudi Arabia was the main destination for Thai workers in the Middle East, with 300,000 workers generating 9 billion baht a year for the country in remittances.