Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz finally responded to the call of thousands of unpaid workers and sacked his labour minister over the crisis of tens of thousands of unpaid employees in the kingdom.

Mufarrej al-Haqbani, who was named to the portfolio almost seven months ago, has been replaced by Ali al-Ghifaidh.

A crisis in the construction sector peaked shortly after Haqbani’s appointment, as some workers who had gone months without salaries were left also without food and other essentials.

The government stepped in, offering to pay for the workers’ flights home and to cover food and accommodation when the employer was no longer meeting obligations.

After Saudi Arabia’s oil revenues collapsed, the government was left owing billions of dollars to private firms, chiefly in the construction sector, which in turn could not pay their workers.

The government has vowed to clear the arrears by this month.

Haqbani was appointed in May as part of a major government reshuffle which merged various ministries — including labour and social affairs — to reflect new priorities under a wide-ranging plan to diversify the economy.

The plan, Vision 2030, also seeks greater government accountability and is driven by Salman’s powerful son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31.

On November 1 King Salman sacked veteran finance minister Ibrahim al-Assaf and replaced him with Mohammed Aljadaan, head of the Capital Market Authority which regulates the stock market.

In other decrees on Friday, Salman removed the director general of the customs department, and fired the secretary general of the Shura Council which advises cabinet.

The king appointed 150 members of the Council, including 30 women, some of whom were new.

They will serve a four-year term on the body which has no legislative authority.

Salman also named members of the Grand Ulemas Council, the kingdom’s top religious body.

Most of the members appeared to be unchanged and it will continue to be led by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, a descendant of 18th century Sunni preacher Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, on whose conservative teachings the Islamic kingdom is founded.

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