Saudi Oger Employees: Without Future
By: Maysam Rizk
Published Monday, January 21, 2013
Saudi Oger, a private contractor owned by the Hariri family, has continued its series of layoffs into 2013. Though the official number of employees dismissed is unavailable, it’s estimated that 400 individuals, mostly Lebanese nationality holders, have been laid off. In the next few days, the number is expected to rise.
The justification from management is as follows: “What is happening is part of the process developed by the company to address the financial crisis it is passing through.”
Almost a year ago, the Saudis began keeping an eye on Hariri’s company, which reeked of corruption. Several high-ranking officials – some close to Saad Hariri – were accused of theft and extortion. But Hariri could not find a solution to the crisis, nor was he able to restore the confidence that the company lost in the market.
So he began a major pruning operation, laying off lower-level employees without any indication of objections to their job performance. The dismissals did not even spare Saudi nationals, leading to widespread dissent.
The layoff decision came on the heels of Saudi Oger’s success two years ago in obtaining a long-term loan of $800 million. This was to complete the second phase of the King Abdullah Project (KAP2) to develop installations for the Ministry of Interior. Deutsche Bank AG, China Development Bank, and Emirates NBD Bank provided the credit for the facilities.
Back then, Hariri’s media celebrated the successful deal without any indication that loan conditions entailed “the dismissal of a large number of employees as part of the plan to restructure the company as agreed with the Saudis.”
The Saudis once treated the company with care, providing it with contracts in the region’s biggest oil economy. Now, the company is suffering from internal disputes and theft. It became closer to a scrapyard for the Kingdom.
“It got used to doing whatever it wanted without accountability,” a dismissed employee told Al-Akhbar. “Its problems are from the base to the top of the administrative pyramid, which has often depended on people who should not be trusted, regardless of their leadership and administrative skills.”
Their identity is not a secret. It is enough to conduct an online search for Saudi Oger to uncover the scandals, not only in its internal administration, but also related to embezzlement of Saudi public funds. Hariri is still up to his ears trying to solve these issues.
Saida Bears the Brunt of the Layoffs
As the Saudi Oger crisis has extended into 2013, the novelty is in its picking thousands of employees to sacrifice, all in the name of implementing the conditions on its bank loan.
The donors are demanding the restructuring of the Hariri empire. This means dispensing of around 30 percent of Saudi Oger employees.
The majority of the 400 dismissed employees are Lebanese – the bulk of whom are from Saida, Harir’s hometown in South Lebanon. It’s predicted that in the coming months, the number of employees laid off in Saida will top 1,500, according to a source close to the company.
As such, those in Saida impacted by the layoffs said, “This will impact the life of the families living in the city, belaboring them with a new layer of unemployment.”
Saudi Oger employees provided different accounts of the company’s latest decisions. Many prefered to remain silent in hopes that “the company will reverse its decision once solidarity spreads among the dismissed employees and those who remained in their posts,” said one employee.
Another employee indicated that “the decision [to lay off more employees] will be deferred until after the parliamentary elections, so as not to hurt the chances of the Future Movement in Lebanon,” he said.
Observers see that the company’s choice “is a reply to the attack it faced, especially in Saudi media, which had launched a campaign against Hariri.” It accused him of “swallowing and forgetting, to the extent that he dared fire Saudi employees, without prior warning or due procedure.”
They even demanded that the Saudi government “take strict actions against the company.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.