What Saudi Arabia’s improved global ranking in labor resilience signifies

A picture taken on August 17, 2017 shows a Saudi employee using a laptop to prepare a slideshow at his office in the capital Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)
A picture taken on August 17, 2017 shows a Saudi employee using a laptop to prepare a slideshow at his office in the capital Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 22 June 2021

What Saudi Arabia’s improved global ranking in labor resilience signifies

A picture taken on August 17, 2017 shows a Saudi employee using a laptop to prepare a slideshow at his office in the capital Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Improvement in Global Labor Resilience ranking ascribed to “digitalization, education and market flexibility”
  • GLRI 2021 report urges governments to invest in job-creating industries to serve growing youth population

DUBAI: Job security has been a major source of anxiety throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown measures cut into business revenues, forcing many firms to reduce working hours or lay off staff.

In countries with diverse economies, strong digital infrastructure and generous social safety nets, the damage has been somewhat mitigated. For others, the crisis has exposed a serious lack of labor-market resilience.

The 2021 Global Labor Resilience Index (GLRI), compiled by public policy and strategy advisory firm Whiteshield Partners in collaboration with the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and the Institute for the Future of Work, revealed the countries best placed to cope with labor-market disruptions or even turn challenges into opportunities.

The index ranks 145 countries and economies based on how resilient their labor markets are to a variety of shocks. Leveraging 102 indicators from a wide range of international sources, the GLRI takes into account both longer-term structural factors — such as demographics, the level of economic development and macroeconomic stability, national capabilities, trade vulnerability and inequality — as well as shorter-term cyclical factors that affect the resilience of a country based on its absorptive, adaptive, transformative and institutional capacity.

The study, which revealed a dramatic improvement in Saudi Arabia’s overall ranking, was published in March, shortly after the first anniversary of the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The timing was apt, given the seismic disruptions to employment caused by the health crisis.

“(The GLRI) is the most comprehensive tool for policymakers to assess labor-market readiness for short-term shocks, such as COVID-19, and long-term stresses, such as technological disruptions and green transitions,” Tom Flynn, a senior manager at Whiteshield Partners, told Arab News.

“Policymakers can use the GLRI to identify and apply policies that resilience leaders use to better maintain and develop quality jobs.

“For example, COVID-19 devastated labor markets and jobs globally but top GLRI performers, such as The Netherlands, whose unemployment rate is now around 3 percent, coped relatively better than others.”

Resilient labor markets are more important than ever as part of efforts to preserve stability and livelihoods against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has caused one of the biggest job crises since the Great Depression.

According to the GLRI, Switzerland continues to be the country with the most resilient labor market in the world, followed by Germany and The Netherlands. This year, a new framework was used to measure resilience to all kinds of shocks, with the result that the US (ranked 14th) and the UK (12th) no longer feature in the top 10. On the 2020 index they ranked third and ninth respectively. In contrast, Germany moved up five places to second place.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the index reveals that a number of countries, including the Kingdom, have made progress in improving the resilience of their labor markets and moved up the rankings in the past five years. However it also shows that during the pandemic many of them failed to hold on to those gains.

The UAE remains the highest-ranked Gulf country, despite dropping from 21st place in 2020 to 35th this year. Its relatively high position reflects the government’s efforts to enhance economic diversification as well as support for innovation.




A Saudi female employee checks murchandise at a hypermarket, newly launched by the operator LuLu and run by a team of women, in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah, on February 21, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Oman, which ranks 75th, has improved its position on the list by 19 positions since 2016, but was ranked 53rd in 2020 and, so, dropped 22 places in the past year.

Saudi Arabia, which ranks 62nd on this year’s list, managed to buck this trend. Not only has the Kingdom moved up the rankings by 27 places since 2016, it also managed to improve its position by 13 places compared with last year, despite the challenges created by the pandemic.

“Being the Arab world’s leading economy and maintaining economic stability have laid the foundation for improvement,” Flynn said of the Kingdom’s success. “But Saudi Arabia has also moved to invest in resilience supports, such as digitalization and education, and has enacted beneficial policy reforms, such as improving labor-market flexibility.”

Many other countries in the region continue to have significant resilience gaps, however, including the challenges of youth unemployment and preparing their labor markets for digital and “green” jobs. Consequently, they are encouraged to explore youth-employment schemes, green-growth opportunities and policies conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation.




Employes of Aramco oil company work in Saudi Arabia's Khurais oil processing plant. (AFP/File Photo)

“The GLRI provides Middle Eastern policymakers with a blueprint to develop sustainable jobs — a critical challenge for the region, which has relatively fragile labor markets and economies,” Fadi Farra, a co-founder and partner at Whiteshield Partners, told Arab News.

“One lesson from this year is that resilience leaders often developed strong labor markets by focusing efforts on improving specific economic foundations or policies to drive resilience, rather than attempting whole-scale reform.”

In the case of Saudi Arabia, the GLRI indicates there is room for improvement at a policy level. For example, the Kingdom ranks 76th on the cyclical pillar, which assesses a country’s policy response cycle when faced with crises.

“In particular, attracting and developing talent and improving the overall business environment, such as in business insolvency and access to credit, can help Saudi Arabia drive growth in innovative small and medium enterprises and start-ups and provide new sources of private-sector jobs,” Farra said.




Saudi Rodina Maamoun, who employed 19 young women almost entirely replacing the men, sells jewellery at a retail store in Riyadh's Hayat mall on February 19, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

According to Flynn, digitalization, the green economy and a growing youth population will continue to challenge the Kingdom and its regional neighbors to provide more, and better-quality, jobs geared toward future industries.

“The COVID-19 crisis has shown how relying on a few industries and natural resources for economic growth leaves Middle Eastern labor markets, particularly in the Gulf, vulnerable to shocks, with youth and lower-skilled workers particularly hurt,” Flynn said.

“While the Middle East, and particularly Saudi Arabia, has experienced clear improvements in labor-market resilience, there is potential to go further.”

Firstly, he argues, governments must adopt policies that promote the digital and green economies as well as traditionally job-creating sectors such as logistics and manufacturing.

“Strong skills-development and apprenticeship programs can help prepare young and experienced workers for these new jobs,” Flynn said.

“Secondly, resilience leaders such as Germany and the Netherlands have shown that strong institutions that can develop and implement job-creating policies, and respond quickly during crises, have proven more critical than ever.”




People walk on the platform of the Haramain High Speed Rail Network. Saudi Arabia is boosting its infrastructure spending and expanding its railways as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy. (AFP/File Photo)

The GLRI defines a resilient labor market as one that generates sustainable demand for a wide range of occupations for much of the workforce, supplies quality work and can withstand disruptions. While governments can plan for climate change and technological disruption, they cannot accurately forecast economic, social or health-based shocks, which may become more frequent.

Vulnerabilities in the global workforce related to inclusivity, especially in relation to young people, women and casual workers, have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Women and young people have been the hardest hit by job losses. At the same time, many informal or “gig economy” workers have found themselves without a social safety net.

Focusing on the long term, the GLRI advises governments to invest more in building labor-market resilience by investing in digitalization, improving employment-related inclusivity, and prioritizing environmental sustainability.

“Having a good resilience index is always important, at any time, because labor markets are changing all the time and the resilience index tells us where labor markets are going and how good they are at absorbing shocks and creating new jobs,” said Sir Christopher A. Pissarides, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, chair of the GLRI Advisory Board and a director of Whiteshield Partners.

“This year is particularly important because, as we all know, there has been a massive new shock which was completely unexpected. Learning more about labor markets and how resilient they are to new shocks such as COVID-19 is very important.”

-------------------

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudi navy unveils latest warship Jazan in Spain

Saudi and Spanish officials attend the unveiling of the latest Avante 2200 corvette for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) at the Navantia shipyard in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)
Saudi and Spanish officials attend the unveiling of the latest Avante 2200 corvette for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) at the Navantia shipyard in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)
Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi navy unveils latest warship Jazan in Spain

Saudi and Spanish officials attend the unveiling of the latest Avante 2200 corvette for the Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) at the Navantia shipyard in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)
  • The Avante 2200 corvette is the fourth of its type being built in a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Military Industries and Spain's Navantia

MADRID: The Royal Saudi Naval Forces (RSNF) recently celebrated the launch of the Avante 2200 corvette, which is the fourth warship of its type within the Sarwat project.

The ship, named Jazan, was unveiled by the Spanish shipbuilder as part of its ceremonial launching held at the shipyard of the Navantia Naval Industries Co., Spain.

The corvettes are being built in a joint venture between Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), and Navantia S.A., named SAMI Navantia Naval Industries.

They will be delivered in 2024, a year later than initially planned, and will feature special combat and fire control systems and integrated communications among other technologies.

The launch event was attended by the Saudi ambassador to Spain, Azzam bin Abdulkarim Al-Qain; the vice president of SAMI for corporate communication, support services and information technology, Wael bin Mohammed Al-Sarhan; as well as other senior officials from RSNF, Spanish Navy and SAMI Navantia Naval Industries.

Saudi ambassador to Spain, Azzam bin Abdulkarim Al-Qain, meets with officials of the SAMI Navantia Naval Industries in Spain on July 24, 2021. (SPA)

The commander of the RSNF, Lt. Gen. Adm. Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Ghufaili, said: “The Sarawat project will contribute to raising the level of readiness of the RSNF, enhancing maritime security in the region and protecting the vital strategic interests of the Kingdom. In addition, the project ships are an important addition to the capabilities of the RSNF in protecting the Kingdom’s maritime interests and localizing advanced military industries technically.”

The Sarawat project warships feature the latest combat systems to deal with all air threats, surface and subsurface, as well as being equipped for electronic wars. They have more capabilities than many of the world’s navies, and are a further addition to the capabilities of the RSNF in protecting the nation’s maritime security.

The project also includes training services for crews, training simulators, logistics, and long-term after-sales technical and logistical support.


Umrah companies gear up to receive foreign pilgrims

Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 July 2021

Umrah companies gear up to receive foreign pilgrims

Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
  • Industry workers could be trained to operate under pandemic conditions, says official

MAKKAH: Hundreds of companies are gearing up to receive fully immunized foreign pilgrims wishing to perform Umrah from Aug. 9.

Via an online platform, pilgrims will be given access to 500 businesses providing access to flights, transport, hotels and Umrah companies.
Hani Al-Omairi, a member of the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah and the Hotels Committee in Makkah, told Alarabiya that nearly 30 websites and platforms will be available for international reservations.
“Health courses and crowd management courses were given to all employees as several companies have commenced operations. Procedures for the rest of the companies and institutions are being finalized by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and other relevant authorities,” said Al-Omairi.
Commenting on the news, Mohsin Tutla, chairman of the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation, told Arab News the return of pilgrims could be ensured through training the industry to provide services under pandemic conditions. He added that the introduction of vigilance technology throughout the pilgrimage and further measures would help smoothen the process.
Tutla told Arab News that the demand from pilgrims to conduct rituals during the pandemic is not as high as people may think.

SPEEDREAD

• Via an online platform, pilgrims will be given access to 500 businesses providing access to flights, transport, hotels and Umrah companies. 

• Hani Al-Omairi, a member of the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah and the Hotels Committee in Makkah, says nearly 30 websites and platforms will be available for international reservations.

“Even though we can assume that people have been queuing to perform Hajj and Umrah, the reality is that people’s financial capability has been depleted.
“Where Hajj and Umrah were available and easy for the mass population and the middle income population, it is now only possible for the rich and thrifty savers.”
Tutla added: “The road to recovery and rejuvenation is not dependent on only demand, it is dependent on the development of global safety mechanisms such as the Hajj and Umrah Safe Corridor, which is currently being developed by the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation, and is being installed in 25 countries worldwide.

Demand from pilgrims to conduct rituals during the pandemic is not as high as people may think. 

Mohsin Tutla, Chairman of the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation

“Globally you will realize that demand would have dropped by approximately 40 percent for international Umrah and 15 percent for international Hajj pilgrimages.” Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. As many as 250,000 domestic pilgrims were able to register, book appointments and granted permits in the first phase.
Some 10,000 foreign pilgrims were gradually allowed back into the Kingdom in the third phase on Nov. 1 after a seven-month hiatus of strict regulations.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president
Updated 26 July 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser has been appointed as the new head of the Islamic Development Bank for the next five years.

He has been an adviser at the General Secretariat of the Saudi Council of Ministers and the chairman of the General Authority for Competition since 2016.

Al-Jasser received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California in 1986. He obtained his master’s degree in economics from the same university in 1981, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from San Diego State University in 1979.

He served as the Kingdom’s economy and planning minister from 2011 to 2015, and as governor of the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) between 2009 and 2011. He was also the vice governor and vice chairman of the SAMA’s board from November 1995 to February 2009.

He has participated in major international events, including G20 meetings at the deputy, ministerial, governor and full summit levels. Al-Jasser also participated in regular meetings of the Bank for International Settlements from 1997 to 2011, and took part in local and international symposia, while also giving frequent lectures on economic and monetary policies.

His previous memberships of ministerial committees, boards and councils include the Council for Economic Affairs and Development, the Supreme Council for Civil Defense, and the Ministerial Committee for Mining Affairs among others.

Al-Jasser has received many awards such as the King Abdul Aziz Medal of the First Order in 2001, the Euromoney (Emerging Markets) Award for Central Bank Governor, MENA Region for the Year in 2009, the Arab Bankers Association of North America Achievement Award in 2010, and “The Banker” Award and “Central Bank Governor of the Year for the Middle East” in 2011.


Makkah’s hospitality sector eyeing recovery

The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
Updated 25 July 2021

Makkah’s hospitality sector eyeing recovery

The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
  • Several services can also be built upon within the hospitality industry to create diverse “backup sectors” that the industry can fall back in exceptional circumstances

MAKKAH: The hospitality sector in Makkah is beginning to look forward to a strong recovery from the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts predict hotels could begin to see results within two years.
The city, the third-most densely populated in the Kingdom, is particularly well served in terms of hotels — almost two-thirds of all those in Saudi Arabia can be found there. Before the pandemic it was a thriving sector, its growth fueled by the ever-increasing numbers of visitors from around the world who flock to Makkah for the annual Hajj pilgrimage or to complete their Umrah rituals.
COVID-19 changed everything. However, experts predict that after the dramatic decline in business caused by the pandemic, “hotel recuperation” plans could begin to yield results by 2023 as the world slowly starts to emerge from lockdown.
Fadhel Manqal, manager of a hotel in the city and a member of the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and industry hotels committee, told Arab News that the sector has faced immense challenges for almost two years.
“The sector has experienced an economic downturn,” he said. “This has crippled its economic power, which is an important contributor to the local economy. It has borne the burden of the effects of the pandemic, which has had a negative effect on all areas of the global economy, including significant implications for the hotel sector.

FASTFACT

The city, the third-most densely populated in the Kingdom, is particularly well served in terms of hotels — almost two-thirds of all those in Saudi Arabia can be found there.

“Makkah’s hotels were not spared; they have suffered substantial losses, leading some to close down and others to suspend their activities or recover partially. Many have suffered losses worth billions.”
Manqal said that the hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, with more than 1,300 hotels that are expected to receive 30 million pilgrims by 2030, as visitor numbers increase as a result of the National Transformation Program and the wider Saudi Vision 2030. But it is still suffering real hardship, he added, despite the early signs of recovery.
The hospitality industry has been irreversibly changed by the health crisis, he said, adding that despite the efforts of some governments to minimize the effects and reduce losses, it has been an economic catastrophe for the sector and the fates of many businesses hang in the balance.
“Not everyone is capable of recovery, adapting or even reorganizing,” said Manqal. “The large five-star hotel chains near the Grand Mosque in Makkah will certainly recover quickly, especially the ones in the central area or the commercial districts near the holy sites in Al-Aziziyah.
“There is no doubt that the unfolding effects on the industry pose a challenge even for more-experienced hotel owners.” For this reason it is vital that businesses plan for the future and confront obstacles, he added.
Saudi authorities began to look for ways to help people and plan for recovery early in the pandemic, said Manqal. For example, they provided assistance through the SANED unemployment insurance program for the families of Saudi hotel workers.
With continued support from the authorities, and the gradual return of Umrah pilgrims from within the Kingdom and, in initially limited numbers, other countries as vaccination rates increase around the world, Manqal said that he expects the sector to begin to recover by 2023.
This gives hospitality providers time to consider their options and develop a better understanding of their perfect hotel guest, he added, but some service providers will face greater challenges than others, particularly those that were heavily dependent on the annual Hajj and Umrah seasons.
Economic analyst Fadl Abu Al-Ainain told Arab News that he expects the sector will continue to experience hardship until the end of this year and that greater public and private sector support, in the form of exceptional incentive programs, as well as the Kingdom’s rapidly expanding vaccination program, will alleviate the continuing effects of the pandemic on Makkah’s hospitality industry.
“Recovery is linked to the return of pilgrims at levels similar to those in the past, and this cannot be achieved due to the coronavirus,” he said. “Consequently, change in the sector is closely linked to a full recovery from the pandemic. Thus, there should be greater focus on reducing the effects of the pandemic on the sector through the provision of government support, as well as measures to reduce the financial burdens on the sector.
“There should be a mechanism for coping with exceptional circumstances, which would also require an enhancement of crisis management that would cover financial and operational damage,” Al-Ainain added.
“The sector has not achieved efficiency in combating crises, and its ability to withstand shocks is nonexistent, but the pandemic situation might open the door for the development of strategies to urgently manage crises in the future.
“I think that reconsidering the value of lease agreements and fixed costs, in partnership with the government, are tools that could be used to address this crisis, and that more sharing of risk among all parties to a contract might reduce the magnitude of losses and the burden of them falling mostly on just one side.”
Several services can also be built upon within the hospitality industry to create diverse “backup sectors” that the industry can fall back in exceptional circumstances, Al-Ainain said, lamenting the fact that “no one searched for them in the past due to the steady and easy income during the high season.”


Authorities in Saudi Arabia sterilize holy sites after Hajj pilgrims depart

The work was carried out under the supervision of the Services Agency represented by the General Administration of Environmental Sanitation. (SPA)
The work was carried out under the supervision of the Services Agency represented by the General Administration of Environmental Sanitation. (SPA)
Updated 25 July 2021

Authorities in Saudi Arabia sterilize holy sites after Hajj pilgrims depart

The work was carried out under the supervision of the Services Agency represented by the General Administration of Environmental Sanitation. (SPA)
  • Spraying and sterilization work was carried out in Arafat and Muzdalifah

JEDDAH: The Municipality of Makkah carried out several field tours to sterilize the holy sites area following the completion of the Hajj pilgrimage, as part an integrated municipal services system.
The Municipality said that sanitation work covered the holy sites to combat public health threats, filling and suctioning water from swamps or water pools, while using environmentally friendly means to preserve public health.
The work was carried out under the supervision and follow-up of the Services Agency represented by the General Administration of Environmental Sanitation.
The agency indicated that spraying and sterilization work was carried out for 103 open water fountains, 48 ​​watershed sites, 217 toilet facilities, and 55 rainwater drainage ducts, in addition to cleaning and sterilizing three government offices in Arafat.
62 open water fountains, 13 watershed sites, 103 toilet facilities, 24 rainwater drainage ducts and a government office in Muzdalifah were also sprayed and sterilized.