The Ministry of Labor is currently devising a new initiative to nationalize the Kingdom’s retail sector. The move is expected to generate 600,000 job opportunities for Saudi nationals, and is therefore set to pose a considerable threat to the current foreign manpower working in the sector.
Undersecretary at the Ministry of Labor Ahmed Al-Humaidan said the objective of the initiative is to create real opportunities for Saudi youth in small and medium enterprises including restaurants, bookstores, supermarkets, shops selling food, auto parts, furniture, toiletry, industrial materials and electrical supplies. He added that this step is just the beginning of the initiative, which aims to completely resettle the whole sector with Saudi nationals.
The new plan, however, has disappointed many expatriates currently working in the retail sector.
“Saudis are not willing to work like we do,” says Eijaz Baasit, an Indian national who runs a small grocery shop. “The right way to tackle employment problems among the Saudi youth is not to get rid of expatriates but to create new jobs that fit their needs and educational experiences.”
Nepalese national Khaldoon Ahmed who owns a watch shop in Kandara says the Ministry of Labor needs to limit the process of Saudization to managerial and upper echelon jobs, which Saudis are willing to accept and not to target menial job positions.
“We work in relatively low-paying jobs that no Saudi is prepared to do.”
A retail sector report by Al Rajhi Capital early this year, said that small convenience stores called “bakalas” currently dominate the retail sector with around 59 percent of the market share.
The Ministry of Labor’s data shows that nearly 1 million Saudi nationals are unemployed. Companies in the retail sector find it increasingly difficult and expensive to employ Saudi nationals to work in labor-intensive jobs that are currently done by low paid foreigners. As a result, these companies will have to incur higher costs for recruitment, training and retention, which would squeeze their profit margins.
According to a report by AFP, Group Chief Economist at the National Commercial Bank Said Al-Shaikh confirmed that the retail sector employs 1.7 million non-Saudis, while 2.8 million foreigners work in construction. Approximately 700,000 people are employed in the industrial sector of which only 20 percent are Saudis.
Collated statistics from the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry shows that the Kingdom has the second largest retail sector after the United Arab Emirates.
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