Staff at Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s shuttered Al Arab News Channel have reportedly started to receive their final settlements more than two months after the station terminated their contracts. Employees in Cyprus have received cheques after writing to the Prince to make a ‘humanitarian appeal’.
The 24-hour pan-Arab news channel launched out of Bahrain in February 2015, but was pulled after only hours, following an interview with a Bahraini opposition leader.
In March last year, Campaign reported the station was planning to relaunch out of Qatar in the third quarter of 2016, after Bin Talal signed a deal with the Qatari government. Members of staff unable to get visas for Qatar were reportedly based in their home countries or Cyprus until a new home was found for the channel. These included nationals of Iraq, Syria and Palestine, among them the high-profile Iraqi anchor Laila al Sheikhly, who had joined Al Arab from Al Jazeera.
Affected staff signed a letter on April 5, petitioning the Prince’s office to help them receive their dues. These include final salaries, end-of-service entitlements and other payments such as flight allowances and travel insurance.
On 6 February, staff had received an email from Sultana Al Ruwaily, executive director of HR and admin affairs, saying “the management has decided to cease [the station’s] operation with an immediate effect”.
She wrote: “Over the coming few days you shall all be contacted by our HR team to finalised your employment status with the organisation.” However, those calls never came.
Ex-staff estimate the total amount due to former employees is in the region of $5m-7m. Al Arab is registered in London, where Companies House lists Al Ruwaily as a director, along with general manager Jamal Khashoggi. Staff say appeals to both directors were not initially answered, hence their approach to Prince Alwaleed, Al Arab’s chairman.
In March, Saudi website Sama News reported some staff were considering applying for asylum in Europe rather than return to their troubled homelands.
Kingdom Holding did not reply to requests for comment. Nor did Campaign receive a reply from the address from which the staff’s email was sent.