JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s construction sector is hoping to win an exemption from expatriate workers’ fees following a review that gave the industrial sector a five-year reprieve from the levy.
Representatives of the sector have reportedly received assurances from the authorities over the fees, which are imposed in a bid to “Saudize,” or nationalize, jobs in the Kingdom.
Zuhair Zahran, an investor in the contracting sector and a member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s construction committee, told Arab News that the sector has received promises from the Ministry of Commerce and Investment that it will review
The issue has been transferred to related authorities for review and “we are hoping for a positive outcome,” he said. A review in the industrial sector has led to an exemption for five years. “That is something positive, and we hope to see the same thing applied to the construction sector,” he added.
“The construction sector is suffering the most,” Zahran said.
“The main goal of imposing expat fees is to Saudize jobs. But it is difficult to Saudize this sector, unlike many other sectors. The construction sector is the only sector that relies on expat workers and it is nearly impossible to Saudize it.”
Zahran said that the average worker’s salary in the sector ranges from SR1,000 ($270) to SR2,000 per month. “No Saudi youth will accept work for less than SR3,000. There is no way to Saudize professions such as a plumber or carpenter, where up to 90 percent of the workers are expats,” he added.
He said that the cost of each worker has reached up to SR9,800 per year before their salary, housing and Iqama transfer fees were taken into account. Contractors in the industry also face difficulties because projects are seasonal, Zahran said.
“Each contractor handles a project for one year in a specific city, then has to move to another city when the project is completed. In this case they are forced to relocate the workers. Is there any Saudi worker who likes to travel from one city to another every now and then? That is why it is very difficult to Saudize this sector.”
Saudi Minister of Commerce and Investment Majed Al-Qasabi told a recent gathering in Riyadh that a review on all fees, including expatriate workers’ fees, will be submitted to the relevant authorities.
He said that the ministry’s mission is to facilitate procedures and strengthen investment, and highlighted the role of the chamber of commerce in eliminating obstacles in the business sector.
Al-Qasabi said that the government will continue to review and improve systems and procedures in order to create more investment opportunities.