Saudi women find working environment improving, but obstacles remain

The Ministry of Labor is adjusting working hours for women to achieve a workplace/home balance, especially for mothers of infants and younger children. (AN photo)
Updated 09 March 2017

Saudi women find working environment improving, but obstacles remain

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Labor is moving forward with plans to set up workplace nurseries and daycare centers and creating “a safe and friendly working environment for women,” according to Khalid Abalkhail, a ministry spokesman.
Abalkhail made the announcement Saturday on his Twitter account.
The ministry also has started implementing a new initiative to facilitate commuting for women to and from their workplaces in Jeddah and Riyadh. The initiative is in its pilot phase, according to Abalkhail.
Establishing nurseries and daycares at workplaces, as well as adjusting working hours for women to achieve a workplace/home balance, especially for mothers of infants and younger children, is part of the initiative.
Angham Bukhari, a lingerie and sleepwear store manager at Mall of Arabia in Jeddah, told Arab News that her company has been providing shuttle bus service to take employees to and from their workplaces. She said she does not know whether providing a safe and convenient commute is a requirement by the Ministry of Labor, but her employer has been providing that service for two years.
Starting this month, her company has collaborated with Careem. The company assigned SR1,500 a month for female employees to use a taxi service if buses do not reach their homes.
“There is a daycare at the mall now where I can leave my child during working hours,” said Bukhari, who is a mother of a 5-year-old. “I used to work for eight hours but now I work for six only. A colleague then takes over in the evening shift.” 
Bukhari’s monthly basic salary is SR3,550 with added benefits and occasional bonuses that can bring it up to SR6,000. She still receives a transportation allowance even if she uses the shuttle bus service.
“We do not get lower salaries compared to our male counterparts due to working for six hours a day (with a weekly day off) instead of eight as this is a regulation from the Ministry of Labor,” she told Arab News. Bukhari said Saudi salesmen also work for six hours unlike non-Saudis who work longer hours.
Bukhari, who is expecting a second baby, added that maternity leave is three weeks. Additional time can be provided, although subject to an unpaid leave.
Sarah’s case is different. After being hesitant to speak to Arab News, she asked to be referred to as “Sarah” without confirming whether it was her real first name.
The 23-year-old, who works at a store that sells cosmetic products, needs to choose between receiving a SR500 transportation allowance, or taking a ride on the bus the company provides.
If they have children, her female colleagues must pay an average of SR350 a month to take their children to the nursery at the mall.
“I don’t have children, but I believe that this is difficult for mothers as they want to keep their children close,” she said. Sarah, who joined the store a year and a half ago, works eight hours daily and receives a monthly salary of SR3,500 including benefits.
At a department store that caters to female and male shoppers in one of Jeddah’s malls, women sales assistants whose salaries are below SR5,000 a month will be offered free rides on Careem following and arrangement with the employer.
“What I like the most about working here is that it’s at a mall and I have everything I need around me,” said Fatima, the manager of the female staff at the department store. “What is annoying is that the store is open until 11:30 p.m. and we sometimes get men coming after 11 p.m. and act in a way that bothers us. But now the security is aware of that and stops them from entering.”
Workingwomen have been more visible in shopping malls around the Kingdom during the past decade, since they replaced their male counterparts at women’s clothing stores.
The late former Minister of Labor Ghazi Al-Qusaibi took the initiative to ban salesmen from working at lingerie shops — a move that was hailed by women shoppers who found it easier to choose lingerie when surrounded by saleswomen.
In 2011, Saudi women started working as sales assistants and behind the tills at stores that sell women and children clothes that only allow entry for families.
Increasing the number of women’s participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent is among the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.
Arab News requested a clarification from the Labor Ministry’s spokesman Khalid Abalkhail, but he did not respond late Monday.

KSRelief signs agreements for relief to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

Updated 25 April 2019

KSRelief signs agreements for relief to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

  • Al-Rabeeah: We have no hidden agenda in Syria and we work through international organizations

BEIRUT: The general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief), Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, signed on Wednesday seven agreements with Beirut and international and civil organizations operating in Lebanon to implement relief projects targeting Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as the most affected host communities in Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who participated in the symposium at the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut to sign the agreements, praised the strong Saudi-Lebanese relations, which have existed for decades, and stressed Lebanon’s keenness to ensure their permanence and development.

He said: “The meetings Al-Rabeeah has held with different Lebanese political and religious authorities over the past two days during his visit to Lebanon, under the guidance of King Salman, indicate the Saudi leadership’s true desire to deepen the fraternal ties with the Lebanese, support Lebanon’s unity, independence, sovereignty and coexistence formula, and protect its existence from the repercussions of all the fires, crises and interventions that plague many countries.”

During the symposium, which was attended by a large group of political, religious and social figures, Al-Rabeeah called on the international donor community to shoulder more responsibility.

Addressing the implementing bodies, he said: “It is time to reconsider your working mechanisms in order to develop them and improve procedures to avoid negative impacts.”

“What I mean by reconsidering working processes is that there is a need to work professionally and skillfully because there are not many resources, and we must eliminate bureaucracy and speedily make the most of resources,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News.

He stressed the importance of developing a close partnership between the donor and the implementer of projects, highlighting that KSRelief’s work is subject to international and regional oversight mechanisms as well as its own internal control mechanisms.

“We have two strategic partners, and when agreements are signed with the recipients of assistance, this means accepting oversight terms,” he said.

Al-Rabeeah said: “Saudi Arabia supports the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country, and so is the case for Yemen.”

“Saudi Arabia has supported peaceful dialogues, which restore security and stability,” he said. “In order for this to happen in Syria, we support the efforts of the United Nations and implement (as KSRelief) relief programs inside Syria. We also have major programs and we count on the UN to ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees.”

On the Syrian regions in which KSRelief is implementing its programs and the difficulties faced, Al-Rabeeah told Arab News: “We have nothing to do with military or religious matters, and wherever there is security, we work. We also work through the UN and the international organizations inside Syria, and we do not have any hidden agenda in this field.”

He stressed that “participating in rebuilding Syria requires security and stability, and the Saudi leadership hopes for a peaceful solution as soon as possible. Until this is achieved, the relief work will continue and won’t cease.”

Al-Rabeeah announced that KSRelief is implementing a quality program to rehabilitate recruited children in Yemen alongside its education, protection, health and environment projects.

“There are those who recruit children to fight in Yemen, violating all humanitarian laws. Our center rehabilitates them so that they are not used as terrorist tools in the future,” he said.

Al-Rabeeah emphasized that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 has given relief work its share, especially in terms of volunteering programs. “We have great examples involved in the field,” he said.

Among the signed agreements was one with the Lebanese High Relief Commission (HRC) to carry out a project to cover the food needs of Lebanese families.

Chairman of Lebanon’s High Relief Commission Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair told Arab News that the agreement targets distributing 10,000 food rations to orphans, widows and destitute families in the poorest and most disadvantaged areas in Lebanon. “This project is encouraging and gives hope to people,” he said.

Khair said that there are 100,000 people in need in Bab Al-Tabbaneh district alone, pledging to commit to transparency during the implementation of the project. “It is not a question of sectarian balance; we are focused on those who are most in need,” he said.

The signed agreements include one for repairing, equipping, and operating the Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Center for Dialysis at the Makassed General Hospital, an agreement with the UNHCR worth $5 million to implement a project for assisting the most affected Syrian families for six months, an agreement to support Souboul Assalam Association in Akkar (northern Lebanon), an agreement with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to implement a project worth $3.8 million to cover the needs of Syrian families that are below the poverty line for a year, and an agreement with UNRWA to cover the medical needs and treatment of cancer and multiple sclerosis in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said: “The challenge facing UNRWA after the reduction of its budget is maintaining the operation of its 715 schools in the Middle East.”

“Saudi Arabia is a key partner for us, and owing to its help, we will be able to help cancer and multiple sclerosis patients,” he said.