Employment Contracts

What you need to know

Employment Contracts

On being offered a job, which in the vast majority of cases happens in the expatriate’s own country, you will almost certainly sign a contract or at least a letter of agreement.

This will contain the conditions of employment and perhaps include a detailed job description, indicating responsibilities and performance standards. On arrival in Saudi Arabia, you can ask for this document to be formalised, with an official Ministry version in Arabic, or attested to by a notary, although there’s little advantage in doing so. A verbal agreement is possible, but a written agreement is, of course, preferable.

In Saudi Arabia, your contract specifies your basic salary, job title, duties and responsibilities, the period of your contract, and possibly also details of the reporting structure and performance measures of the company. An employment contract should also contain termination conditions, including required notice of intent to terminate the contract on either side and liabilities to be incurred in respect of breaking the conditions of the contract. Your contract might include the phrase ‘employment subject to obtaining the necessary permits’. This is unlikely to present problems, but make sure that you’re able to obtain the required visas, etc. before committing yourself to the move abroad.

Note that local labour laws apply whether you hold a contract or not. A company contract is likely to take precedence over basic labour laws where its stipulations are in excess of legal requirements, but you still have the protection of the laws as a minimum.

Traditionally, most expatriate contracts were for two years only, but it’s becoming increasingly common for contracts to be open-ended. Employers have found that they can be held to a defined period if the employee proves unsatisfactory, and most contracts now have a termination notice period of between one and three months, or payment in lieu of notice. Contracts can be extended or renewed by mutual consent and frequently are if all parties are happy with things as they are. It’s quite common for expatriates to stay in the Saudi Arabia for 20 years or more.

Saudi Arabia has sophisticated, computerised control of their labour force and specify job categories that are open to foreign labour. Certain employment is reserved for nationals, particularly in the service industries. You might, therefore, find that your contract gives you the job title you would expect, but the official version on your work visa is something quite different. This might be because of full job quotas or other reasons. You’re sometimes required to attend the Ministry on the completion of your contract to ensure that you have no complaints and to cancel your work visa.

Medical Examination

All expatriates must undertake a government-controlled medical examination prior to the issue of a work residence visa. The examination includes a general health check to look for serious infectious diseases and infirmities, but especially for HIV and AIDS.

The examination is likely to be more stringent for workers from the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia, who may have greater exposure to disease and less access to advanced medical resources in their home countries than westerners. The AIDS test is mandatory, including for spouses and, if you’re shown to be HIV positive, you will be expelled immediately. The test is also given when work visas are renewed, which is usually on a three-year cycle.

Further reading

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