Feminization of shops to blame for SR800m loss

Updated 17 March 2014
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Feminization of shops to blame for SR800m loss

Businesses have lost an estimated SR800 million because of the government’s feminization program, a member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) claimed on Monday.
The claim comes as the Ministry of Labor launched the third phase of its feminization program covering shops selling women’s bags, shoes, perfume and clothing; and said it would punish those failing to employ Saudi women.
Mohammad Al-Shahri, chairman of the JCCI’s textile and clothing committee, said 25 percent of small and medium-sized shops have shut down, while many others are considering pulling out of the market.
Al-Shahri said the feminization program has affected large and small businesses. He said many businesses closed because of high costs, including the expense of employing women for two shifts at double the salaries of expatriates, rising rents and the levy imposed on companies under the Saudization program.
He said committee members and merchants are not opposed to the feminization program but have found it difficult to implement it. This has resulted in many businesses losing money and closing down, he said.
Al-Shahri said the Labor Ministry should have discussed the program with businesspeople before introducing it, to give them enough time to express their views and concerns.
It is estimated that 25 percent of small and medium companies make up 80 percent of the market for female clothing.
Some merchants working in the clothing sector agreed with Al-Shahri’s comments.
Mohammad Hakim, who has 35 stores selling readymade clothes, said he had to close down 10 lingerie shops because he could not find women workers. These stores were in Al-Makarona complex in Jeddah on the main road.
He claimed he lost SR2 million. He estimated that 30 percent of stores that sold women’s clothing had closed down permanently.
Hakim said women should undergo training for a period of three months before being employed on a permanent basis. He called on the ministry to slow down the process of feminizing shops.
Ziyad Al-Bassam, chairman of the JCCI board, has welcomed the feminization program as positive for the industry because it allowed many women to set up their own small and medium businesses.
Al-Bassam said the JCCI is ready to train and support women in various sales professions.
Mahmoud Maqsood Khan, an investment and human resources consultant in the Gulf region, said the ministry did publish its proposals on feminization on its portals, “Bawaba” and “Together,” for businesspeople to consider.
Fahad Al-Takhifi, assistant deputy minister for development, said government was determined to implement the feminization program. He said the ministry had given businesses enough time to gradually implement the program.
He said the ministry would punish those who do not abide by the new labor laws. “We will not be lenient with those who fail to implement the Saudization of lingerie shops and will continue our inspections of such stores across the Kingdom.”
In a statement on the launch of the third phase of the feminization program, he said the ministry’s inspectors have taken action against 1,173 shops that had violated the regulations.
He said the third phase would cover shops selling women’s perfumes, maternal care goods, shoes, vanity bags, readymade dresses, women’s clothing and dressmaking materials.


Lost in translation? Not for Muslim Hajj pilgrims

Updated 8 min 49 sec ago
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Lost in translation? Not for Muslim Hajj pilgrims

  • In all, 80 percent of pilgrims to the western Saudi city of Makkah are non-Arabic speakers
  • Many of the signs directing pilgrims are translated into English, Urdu and in some cases, French

MAKKAH, Saudi Arabia: Lost in translation? Not in Makkah, thanks to a dedicated squad of interpreters gearing up to help two million Muslims speaking dozens of languages at the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
The six-day Hajj, which starts on Sunday, is one of the five pillars of Islam, an act all Muslims must perform at least once if they have the means to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Most of the world’s Muslims do not speak Arabic — Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim community by population, while tens of millions of the faithful are native speakers of Urdu.
In all, 80 percent of pilgrims to the western Saudi city of Makkah are non-Arabic speakers, according to Mazen Al-Saadi of the official Hajj translation bureau.
His team provides 24/7 interpretation services in English, French, Farsi, Malay, Hausa, Turkish, Chinese and Urdu — the most widely spoken language among Hajj pilgrims.
For Samir Varatchia, who made the trip to Makkah from France’s Indian Ocean island of Reunion, the men in grey vests — the uniform of the official Hajj translation team — are a welcome sight.
“I really don’t know much Arabic,” Varatchia told AFP.
“The French translation will help us understand things, including the sermons.”
Tunisian interpreter Abdulmumen Al-Saket is happy to help, fielding frequent requests for his phone number.
“We try to help as much as we can, even with reading the maps,” he said.
“Some ask for our personal phone numbers, to call us later if they need help,” he added.
Pilgrims come to Makkah from across the world, including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Many speak only Urdu, Saadi said.
Many of the signs directing pilgrims are translated into English, Urdu and in some cases, French.
Makkah’s Grand Mosque provides a range of translation and interpreting services to pilgrims.
Specialist departments deal with sermons and rulings, and a hotline is available in dozens of languages to answer religious questions.
But for practical matters, Saadi’s 80-strong team is indispensible.
The department has been in place for four years, he said, and is being continuously expanded to deal with rising demand.
“Most (pilgrims) don’t speak Arabic and are afraid to ask in the event of an accident,” Sanaullah Ghuri, an Indian translator, told AFP in Arabic.
A deadly stampede in 2015 left more than 2,000 pilgrims dead in Mina, the Makkah neighborhood where the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual takes place during Hajj.
Many pilgrims were unable to understand security forces’ instructions, delivered in Arabic.
The Hajj presents Saudi authorities with vast logistical challenges.
Islam is currently the world’s fastest-growing religion, according to the Pew Research Center, which says the number of Muslims in the world is expected to rise from 1.8 billion in 2015 to three billion in 2060.
The Hajj sees millions of pilgrims visit the country, all clad in white, to perform rituals in Makkah’s Grand Mosque and on the Mount Arafat plain east of Makkah.
It ends with Eid Al-Adha, a three-day feast which starts with the “stoning of the devil.”
Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most restrictive countries, has recently embarked on an ambitious reform program spearheaded by the powerful young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
That has included pumping millions of dollars into high-tech initiatives.
Providing services for two million pilgrims is no small feat, and authorities are pushing a “smart Hajj” initiative this year to meet the rising demand.
That includes apps providing information on emergency medical services and geographic guides to Makkah and Mina, the two cities home to Islam’s holiest sites.
One app will also translate Hajj sermons into five languages.
But the Indian translator, Ghuri, said the presence of real-life interpreters made the experience of Hajj easier for pilgrims.
“When they see someone speaking their language, they feel more comfortable seeking help,” he said.