The Ministry of Labor has announced that abaya and nightgown boutiques in the Kingdom must fully staff female employees by June 10.
“The ministry has obliged abaya shop owners to provide saleswomen with a private lounge where they can rest during prayer time, acknowledging that it is hard for them to roam the malls when the shops are closed,” Fahd Al-Tukhaifi, assistant undersecretary of development at the Ministry of Labor said.
Al-Tukhaifi admitted that a number of employers have violated labor regulations by delaying payment of women’s salaries or sending only half of their wages to their bank accounts. Such practices should end soon, he said.
“Once the wage protection system is implemented all these violations will be addressed,” Al-Tukhaifi said.
Commenting on the fact that most of such shops are managed or owned by men, he said, “I personally envision three main requirements to avoid problems in this regard. First, the employer must veil or somehow conceal the interior of the shop if women are working inside. Men should be prohibited from entering these shops with the exception of family sections. The second requirement is that the employer should not under any circumstances employ men and women jointly in the same department.” He added that there should be no fewer than three female employees working the same shift.
The third condition, according to Al-Tukhaifi, stipulates that men working in the same shop should refrain from entering the female department.
“Men visiting the mall or shopping are to be prohibited from entering these shops, unless in the company of their families,” he said.
The assistant undersecretary urged the cooperation of all government agencies and members of the community to facilitate and encourage women to work and earn a decent living. “Women facing any problems, such as blackmail or harassment, should at once contact the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,” he concluded. Meanwhile, abaya shop owners in Jeddah have requested more time to recruit and train employees. “This is very short notice and we need more time to replace our experienced salesmen with trained women,” said owner of an abaya shop in Jeddah.
“I don’t know how it will be possible for us to build a space for female employees to rest when our previous salesmen would close the shops and leave during prayer time.”
The difficulty of finding trained females was another source of concern for many boutique shop owners, according to Alaa Merwakhi, a fashion designer.
“I think I’m going to have to stand in my own shop and sell the nightgowns and accessories I have, because I need my employees to be professional and experienced,” she said. “Knowing this is a new field for women in the Kingdom, I can see how it will be a struggle for me to find suitable saleswomen to work for me and sell my clothes.”
“Will the ministry compensate us for the money we spent for training the salesmen? Or will we pay more money to train the newcomers to this industry?” Merwakhi asked.
According to a 2012 study by the Ministry of Labor, over 28,000 Saudi women have applied for jobs at shops selling lingerie and women’s supplies, such as makeup, perfume, lingerie, clothing and children’s products throughout the Kingdom.