If Saudization is to work it must be real, not fake
Saudization is a term that has been greatly in focus lately, with the need to localize jobs, make the best use of Saudi capabilities, and confront the changes, challenges and risks that come with that requirement.
Labor nationalization is one of the main pillars of Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Program 2020. The aim is to establish proper jobs and find effective and realistic solutions to unemployment, because of its dangerous effects on the Kingdom and its economy, society and security. These efforts are aimed at reducing unemployment as much as possible, to 7 percent or less by 2030.
According to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics, the unemployment rate among Saudi nationals rose to 12.9 percent in the first three months of this year, the highest since records began in 1999, and exceeding the 12.8 percent reached in the previous nine months.
Complicating the fight against unemployment is the unfortunately widespread phenomenon of fake or phantom job nationalization, which negates the benefits of Saudization. The sheer volume of advertisements for fictitious jobs invented only for the purpose of Saudization is concrete evidence of the spread of this scourge, and its reach throughout society.
One reason for this spread is complacency in applying sanctions to employers who break the law. Applicable penalties include imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to SR10 million, the suspension of foreign labor recruitment, suspension of applications for the transfer of sponsorship or renewal of employee residence rights, and prohibition of the employer from benefiting from government tenders, loans and subsidies provided to the private sector.
Employees who know that their “job” is a consequence of fake Saudization, or who break the law related to, for example, the social insurance system, may be fined SR10,000. Fines may be doubled if the offense is repeated.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development and the General Organization for Social Insurance are the two bodies entrusted with the most important principles of Saudization. The existence of clear regulations under one system makes it easier to apply the sanctions without allowing them to be separated between various ministerial areas of responsibility. This plays a major role in combating fake Saudization — along with “naming and shaming,” which of course all offending employers seek to avoid.
But this should not be about crime and punishment — it should be about the creation of a professionally skilled and educated Saudi workforce, and providing the appropriate work environments in accordance with international standards that enhance the productivity of citizens and ensure a positive impact on the profitability of the business sector.
If Saudization through random employment leads to corporate losses, the share of the private sector in the economy will shrink rather than increase. The experiences of labor nationalization should be evaluated in a manner that contributes to the rehabilitation of beneficiaries and the identification of weaknesses and strengths.
Ethics and humanitarian principles play an important role in individual awareness and integrity, and no one is entitled to reward without effort. Members of society also have an important role to play in reporting these employment irregularities, which are a drag on the economy of the country and impede its progress and development.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif