You might have heard how employees in Saudi Arabian workplaces get different pay for the exact same job based on their passport alone. Western passport holders might earn ten times more than their just as qualified Asian country passport holder colleagues for the same amount of work. How does this effect the working environment, with such huge differences in wages between employees?
In a previous post I wrote about the workplace bullying problem in Saudi-Arabia. It was mentioned how the salary disparity between different nationalities is at least partly to blame for this unfortunate phenomenon. Read that post here: Saudi Hospitals, Bureaucracy and Bullying.
The wage system in Saudi-Arabia is completely based on the color of the employee’s passport. This goes for all companies hiring foreign staff. My experience is from the nursing field so I will talk more about that specifically.
In most countries the nursing salaries are seen as too low compared to the education level and the actual job responsibilities and duties. The salaries will however usually increase as the nurse gets more experience and training over the years. In Saudi-Arabia on the other hand the staff nurse with only two years working experience and the one with 30 years experience plus additional training to earn the same. There are no age or experience benefits and specializing in a field will only slightly increase the salary.
The only determining factor for the salary is the passport with which the employee is applying for the job. In fact, not even nationality matters.
Take for example an Indian national who worked in Great Britain and obtained a British passport and dual nationality. He will naturally apply to work in Saudi with the British passport because of the much fatter pay check.
Some Asians (particularly Filipinos) knowing this, travel to Canada just to get the passport. According to them, it’s the easiest country to obtain a passport from in just a few years. The expats then relocate to the Middle East, applying for the job as Canadians, this way multiplying their earnings.
To illustrate the gross salary disparity, I drew up a totally fictional salary table of nurses working in Saudi-Arabia. This table is in no way based on any official documents whatsoever and is completely made-up. I honestly don’t even have the specific amounts in my knowledge. I have however during the years come to hear people talking about their salary and other’s salaries and even seen some payslips that had been left lying around in the staff room accidentally (or purposely?) to have a very generalized idea about it. There’s plenty of info available online too.
Salaries of course vary from one hospital to another and there is a difference between private hospitals and government owned, with the latter paying higher salaries.
Passport Basic salary per month Saudi riyals
South African 7000
Arabs (Lebanon, Jordan etc) 10000
European (British,German, Nordic)16000
American (Canada,Australia) 18000
So basically the lowest paid are the Asian passport holders and highest salary goes to U.S. and Canadian passport holders. This system is said to be based on the standard of living in the home country of the employees. In other words, what the money will buy the employee back home and the cost of living and the value of money in each country. It’s also said to be based on the quality of the education that western vs. Asian nurses have.
For example a Filipino earns so much in the Kingdom she’s able not only to live a very comfortable life there but also support her extended family back home and maybe even purchase a house and a car. The money the Filipino nurse earns in Saudi, although MUCH less compared to what their western colleagues are earning, will in comparison get them more back in their home countries.
On the other hand the American nurse, although she earns more than in the U.S, does not get a significant pay raise. Many are able to travel and save some money, maybe pay off loans but there is no way they could support other family members and make large purchases at the same time.
According to online sources, the starting salary for Indian nurses in their home country is 2300 rupees a month which is about 41 U.S dollars (150SAR). The maximum salary with all benefits would be around 5000 rupees, or 90 dollars. The estimated earnings of an Indian nurse in Saudi-Arabia, around 2500 to 4000 SAR is around 1000-2000 U.S dollars at the current exchange rate. That would add up to roughly 58,000 rupees. That’s a staggering difference to what they earn back home.
Filipino nurses earn approximately 5000P a month back home in the Philippines, which is about 450 SAR (120 U.S dollars). A news article from 2009 states Pinoy nurses salaries in government hospitals will be raised from 2550 to 3500SAR. If they earned the estimated 3500SAR a month in Saudi-Arabia that would be roughly 39,000P. That’s almost ten times more than what they would earn in the Philippines.
Compare this to the European nurse. Say she earns about 2400 euros at home minus taxes, leaving her with about 1600 euros a month. That’s roughly 7500 Saudi riyals, or if counted from the salary before tax cuts, 11,000. In Saudi her salary will increase about 30% from this. If the European were to get a comparative pay raise to the Asians, her salary would end up being something around 26,000 euros or 120,000SAR a month!
By doing some more maths (which I suck at btw) I discovered that the Filipino who first went to Canada to get the passport, actually literally becomes a millionaire (but only in the Philippines) by just working a few years in the Kingdom!
Another interesting aspect is how the Saudi nationals themselves get lower pay than westerners. This is very strange and seems unfair to me. Why don’t they value their own citizens more? Do they think Saudi employees are not as efficient or highly trained as the western nurses and thus don’t deserve as much pay? I have to admit I heard many nurses complaining about the laziness or lack of training of the Saudi nurses.
Even though I understand partly why they thought up this kind of system in the first place and it does have some sort of rationale behind it, it still causes a lot of tension in the workplace. At the end of the day it IS unfair to pay one employee ten times more in Saudi riyals for the same job, just because of their nationality. The difference in salary causes tension and conflicts in the working environment and can potentially cause one nationality to hold grudges and feel jealousy toward another.
So is there a solution to this salary racism? Could all employees be paid the same salary regardless of their passport color? If the wages went down significantly how would Saudi companies be able to attract western employees anymore? If employees from poorer countries started earning the same salaries as westerners in Saudi do, what would happen? An overwhelming influx of Asian employees? How about raising the Saudi’s salaries in order to motivate them more? Would making the salaries more equal make the working environments more tolerable places for all nationalities to work harmoniously in?
If these salaries are based on the cost of living back home and education levels then why do some employees get paid according to their newly obtained passports? What about a Saudi or Asian employee who trained in the west? Or a western nurse that got their education from a third world country? This system seems to have so many loopholes and other negative aspects to it that I think at least some sort of reform could certainly do good for the Saudi workplaces.
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Hello there, I’m Laura, the founder, author and manager of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 69 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Having visited all corners of the Kingdom with over a decade of experience, I have a vast knowledge base about travel and tourism in Saudi Arabia.