Staff at 15 Joannou and Paraskevaides Group construction sites in Saudi Arabia are refusing to work over the company’s failure to pay their salaries since February, the Cyprus Mail has learned.
Workers had warned the company, J&P Overseas, that they would not return to work after the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which ended Wednesday, unless the company provided them with written commitment from the board that outstanding salary payments for all employees were secure and that they would be paid in strict accordance to a timeframe they had drafted ending on August 3.
The workers, including 100 Cypriots, are owed some $21.3 million (80m Saudi Arabian riyals).
Most of the 5,500 staff have not been paid since February, although for some it has been longer than six months. Saudi nationals working for the company were paid up until April.
In January this year, the company employed around 7,000 workers, but staff are quitting on a daily basis. In January 2017, the company had around 13,000 staff in its employment.
On Wednesday, around 300 workers demonstrated at the company’s headquarters in Riyadh, demanding their salaries.
It was a generally peaceful demo that lasted around three hours, although there was some shouting.
The company operates some 15 construction sites in the country for projects worth $2.2 billion.
The Cyprus Mail understands that the matter was discussed during a visit to Saudi Arabia by Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides who met his counterpart Adel Al Jubeir.
The company’s problems became public in March when an earlier letter from the workers to Andreas Papathomas, the man in charge of the J&P Overseas’ Saudi operations, was leaked, detailing hardship because of being unpaid for months.
In April, J&P Overseas made €120m from the sale of an airport in Jordan, which Papathomas said would boost the company’s cash flow and enable it to pay staff in Saudi Arabia, but it appears that cashflow problems persist. There is a dispute between the partners over how this revenue will be used.
J&P was once the flagship of Cyprus’ construction industry, the most successful private company with presence in the Middle East, Africa, the Asian Subcontinent, and Europe.
The core of the J&P Group’s operations is the Gulf Area and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, with landmark projects in Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, and regional offices in Riyadh, Jeddah, Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha.