As a western Expat I have enjoyed wages in Saudi Arabia that are significantly higher than I could expect in the west, but this is not always the case for workers arriving in the kingdom from other less affluent parts of the globe. The monthly wage for my last position was 2 years wage for my wife’s original position as a Filipino Nurse in a small private Saudi hospital.
Some workers employed from places such as Bangladesh arrive in the country and are expected to work for Salaries as low as 600 to 800 Riyals ($160 to $213) each month, while these wages may seem high to these guys coming from extreme poverty they are not really enough to let them survive and send money back home for their families. Many of these workers take additional (illegal) work or run away to find other better paid work. You will often see these Bangladeshis working as street cleaners, pausing at every junction and traffic light in the hope that a passing car will offer them a tip as many do in exchange for taking the trash from their cars. Without this charity I am sure many of these guys would just not be able to survive.
The same is true for domestic workers from countries such as the Philippines, when I first moved onto a compound I chatted with a number of the female staff there and some of them also were only earning 800 Riyals per month. Many of them therefore worked as freelancers after their shifts doing private cleaning (and other “work”) for some of the compound residents, the compound management turning a blind eye to this practice as it relieved any pressure on them to increase wages. The same was true for the various male staff working in maintenance and other jobs on the compound, all had extra gardening and car cleaning jobs. These extra jobs would effectively double their wages or better.
However there were many expats from these countries that I met who did not have the same opportunities to improve their wages and these often just struggled on or ran away to find better paid work in the illegal job market. There is a large demand for maids and drivers in the job market, often paying more than most of these workers were originally recruited on.
Professional wages in Saudi Arabia.
Even for more professional positions there is a large variation in the wages being paid depending on the country of origin, you will find the Indian or Pakistani qualified Engineer being paid significantly less than a western engineer filling pretty much the same role. I often get asked by people reading my work online if I think a wage is fair, my answer is always “if it is enough for you then it is”, but if you wish to find out the wages being paid for a specific job you can check them on Bayt.com which has a significant survey of salaries across the kingdom as well as the rest of the middle east.
While I have enjoyed a very high standard of living on my salary while working in Saudi Arabia, many expats from Asian countries in professional positions struggle to do better than some of their fellow countrymen in laboring positions.
Saudi Minimum Wage
There is now a study underway to set a minimum wage for workers in the kingdom to try to make it more attractive for employers to employ Saudis, this indirectly should benefit a number of the lower paid expats in the kingdom. With companies paying expats less than the Saudi unemployment benefit of 2000SAR per month there is no incentive for Saudis to work for these companies or for the companies to hire Saudis who want higher wages. While some expats will lose their jobs as they are replaced by Saudis in companies seeking to meet their quotas of Saudis many will benefit from higher wages; if the companies pass on the requirements!
The following is a news article discussing the introduction of a Saudi Minimum wage;
Saudi Arabia aims to complete a study on setting a minimum wage for private sector workers within four months, local media quoted the labor minister as saying, part of a government drive to make jobs more appealing to nationals and cut unemployment.
The jobless rate in the world’s top oil exporter is now running at 10 percent and is a potential source of discontent as private companies prefer to hire foreigners, mainly from Asian countries such as Pakistan, who agree to work for wages as low as 1,800 riyals ($480) a month. That is less than the monthly unemployment benefit of 2,000 riyals.
Saudis have favored government jobs, which offer security and higher salaries.
It will be interesting to see how this develops and how it affects the wages being offered to expats working in the kingdom, I will keep you posted as to any developments.