Female workers help Saudi Arabia jobless rate hit five-year low

The decline in the unemployment rate was helped by an increase in female participation in the workforce. (Supplied)
The decline in the unemployment rate was helped by an increase in female participation in the workforce. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 July 2021

Female workers help Saudi Arabia jobless rate hit five-year low

The decline in the unemployment rate was helped by an increase in female participation in the workforce. (Supplied)
  • Economic and social reforms, pandemic response praised as experts hail rapid jobs growth

RIYADH: A rapid Saudi government response to the coronavirus pandemic, women’s active participation in the workforce and Vision 2030 economic reforms have been cited by experts as major factors in the Kingdom’s unemployment rate falling to its lowest level in almost five years.

The decline in the jobless rate comes as the Saudi economy begins to rebound from the pandemic and women join the workforce in record numbers.

The overall Saudi unemployment rate fell to 11.7 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared with 12.6 percent in the last quarter of 2020, the General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) said on Wednesday.

According to GASTAT, the joblessness figure is the lowest since an 11.6 percent rate in the second quarter of 2016.

The decline in the unemployment rate was helped by an increase in female participation in the workforce, which rose to 33.6 percent from 32.1 percent in the previous quarter.

The Kingdom is benefiting from a surge in investment as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to diversify the economy under the Vision 2030 reform plan.

Economic reforms since 2016 have created millions of jobs, with plans to reduce unemployment to 7 percent by 2030.

Speaking to Arab News, economist Talat Zaki Hafiz said that unemployment in Saudi Arabia has fallen to its lowest level in almost five years for many reasons, including rigorous efforts by the government to Saudize most of the commercial sectors in private businesses.

HIGHLIGHT

The overall Saudi unemployment rate fell to 11.7 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared with 12.6 percent in the last quarter of 2020, GASTAT said.

“Empowering women in the labor market and offering them a wider chance to work and participate more actively has reflected positively in unemployment sliding in the Kingdom,” he said.

“Today we have more and better Saudis to work in the private sector from the point of view of qualification or even willingness to accept the kind of jobs that were not appealing to them.”

Hafiz said that he was confident the Kingdom will reach its Saudi Vision 2030 target of 7 percent unemployment.

Dr. Osama Ghanem Al-Obaidy, adviser and law professor at the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh, said: “Saudi Vision 2030 highlights the importance of raising the employment levels of Saudis. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Saudi Arabia managed to lower its unemployment rate, while other countries suffered huge job losses.

“Policies implemented by the government were effective in avoiding an increase in unemployment rates,” he said.

Al-Obaidy said that employment programs and initiatives for young Saudis, especially women, and investments by the Saudi Public Investment Fund as well as economic reforms undertaken by the Saudi government have led to a lowering of the unemployment rate.

This is in addition to the support and incentive packages that the government provided to businesses and business owners to help avoid mass job losses, he said.

“The lowering of the unemployment rate in the Kingdom is a testament to the strength and resilience of the Saudi economy and its labor market,” Al-Obaidy added.


Saudi-backed Lucid breaks Tesla's rating on electric car range

Saudi-backed Lucid breaks Tesla's rating on electric car range
Updated 13 sec ago

Saudi-backed Lucid breaks Tesla's rating on electric car range

Saudi-backed Lucid breaks Tesla's rating on electric car range
  • Lucid's Air Dream model can go for 520 miles between charges
  • It beats Tesla's record

Saudi-backed electric car makers Lucid Motors are celebrating after one of its models smashed Tesla’s record for distance covered without needing a recharge.

The company’s Lucid Air Dream Edition R has been given a rating of 520 miles by the Environmental Protection Agency, making it the longest-range electric vehicle ever rated by the organisation.

The rating means the US-based company, which received $1 billion from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund in April 2019, has beaten Tesla’s longest range vehicle by more than 100 miles.

Earlier this month it was announced that Lucia Motors will produce vehicles in Saudi Arabia by 2024, with the paperwork still being finalised

Commenting on the EPA-rating, CEO Peter Rawlinson said: “I’m delighted that our Lucid Air Dream Edition Range has been officially accredited with a range of 520 miles by the EPA, a number I believe to be a new record for any EV. Crucially, this landmark has been achieved by Lucid’s world-leading, in-house EV technology, not by simply installing an oversize battery pack,

“Our race-proven 900V battery and BMS technology, our miniaturized drive units, coupled with our Wunderbox technology endow Lucid Air with ultra-high efficiency, enabling it to travel more miles from less battery energy. The next generation EV has truly arrived!”

In an exclusive drive with car review site MotorTrend, the Lucid Air Dream Edition R was taken from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back down to Lucid HQ in Newark — a 445-mile trip — with 72 miles to spare. 

Lucid Motors described this as “real-world testing, air conditioning on, pacing with the flow of traffic. The cruise control was set at a practical 67 mph”.

After the journey, MotorTrend’s Jonny Lieberman said: “Remember range anxiety? As with the internal combustion engine, it's a thing of the past.”

Lucid Motors — which is 67 percent owned by the Public Investment Fund — will be hoping the rating drums up pre-orders for their vehicles.

It’s flagship Lucid Air model, priced at over $70,000, is due to launch early next year but has received only 11,000 orders to date.

That’s about half as many Teslas have been sold every month in the US alone this year, and just under 388,000 cars in total were sold in Saudi Arabia in 2020.


Egypt completes manufacturing of 5 million COVID vaccine doses

Egypt completes manufacturing of 5 million COVID vaccine doses
Updated 16 September 2021

Egypt completes manufacturing of 5 million COVID vaccine doses

Egypt completes manufacturing of 5 million COVID vaccine doses
  • Health Minister Hala Zayed said an additional production line is being prepared at the Giza plant

CAIRO: Egypt has finished manufacturing 5 million doses of coronavirus vaccine – 2.5 million of which will be released this week.

Health Minister Hala Zayed said an additional production line is being prepared at the Giza plant, which will be operational in November. It will have a capacity of 300,000 doses per day.

Around 17 million doses of AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sputnik, and Pfizer vaccines were supplied and distributed by the health ministry in September.

Five million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine were donated, as well as 100,000 to 250,000 doses AstraZeneca.

The ministry worked with local governorates to deliver the vaccines, as the government scrambles to speed up vaccinations in the country of 100.4 million people.

Zayed said 13 million citizens have been vaccinated so far – 584,000 of whom got the jab for travel purposes.

The minister reviewed the country’s capacity to attend to COVID-19 patients, saying around 3.380 million liters of oxygen are still in stock.

She also reviewed facilities and equipment of central care hospitals, as well as efforts to expand them.


Philip Morris’ ‘smoke free’ plan advances with $1.5bn deal for UK’s Vectura

Philip Morris’ ‘smoke free’ plan advances with $1.5bn deal for UK’s Vectura
Image of Philip Morris factory
Updated 16 September 2021

Philip Morris’ ‘smoke free’ plan advances with $1.5bn deal for UK’s Vectura

Philip Morris’ ‘smoke free’ plan advances with $1.5bn deal for UK’s Vectura
  • Chief Executive said the acquisition of Vectura was a critical part of his strategy to move the company "Beyond Nicotine"
  • Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said they have sent a letter urging the UK government to look into any conflict of interest issues

LONDON: Cigarette maker Philip Morris (PMI) clinched its £1.1 billion ($1.5 billion) takeover of asthma inhaler maker Vectura on Thursday, as part of the company’s long term plan to develop “smoke-free” products and switch to being a “broader healthcare and wellness” company.

The deal won the support of the British company’s shareholders who decided to take the 165 pence-per-share offer from PMI, with nearly 75 percent backing the deal but angered health groups such as Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation that have questioned whether a tobacco group should own a company that cures the very respiratory illnesses cigarettes cause.

PMI Chief Executive Jacek Olczak has argued that acquiring Vectura is a critical part of his strategy to move the company “Beyond Nicotine.”

He told the Telegraph last month that opponents of the deal were “not interested in progress” and accused them of “settling old scores” with the tobacco industry.

Olczak said PMI would provide Vectura’s scientists with the resources and expertise to reach its goal of generating at least $1 billion in net revenue from “Beyond Nicotine” products by 2025.

In the meantime, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said they have sent a letter urging the UK government to look into any conflict of interest issues.

The letter was co-signed by 35 charities, public health experts and clinicians.

“There’s now a very real risk that Vectura's deal with big tobacco will lead to the cigarette industry wielding undue influence on UK health policy,” said Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation.

PMI has received regulatory clearances for the deal and following the public tender process, its offer cannot now be withdrawn.

While the company received the 50 percent threshold to make its offer unconditional, it has not yet reached the 75 percent of shares it needs to delist Vectura.

PMI said it was extending its offer to Sept. 30, to give Vectura shareholders time to accept its proposal.


Amazon brings free cloud skills training program to unemployed in MENA

Amazon brings free cloud skills training program to unemployed in MENA
Amazon Web Services will help unemployed and underemployed people
Updated 16 September 2021

Amazon brings free cloud skills training program to unemployed in MENA

Amazon brings free cloud skills training program to unemployed in MENA

DUBAI: Technology giant Amazon is launching its free cloud computing training program in the Middle East and North Africa, as the region puts more premium on tech-based skills.

The program will help unemployed and underemployed people in the region, Amazon Web Services said in a statement, and connect them with local employers.

The first cohorts are taking place in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia, and will later expand to additional countries in the Gulf.

Participants of the 12-week program, called “AWS re/Start,” will learn entry-level cloud computing functions, and will also include career coaching – all delivered by accredited instructors, Amazon said.

“As cloud adoption continues to grow in MENA, we look forward to expanding the program to more countries and helping to bridge the gap for in-demand cloud skill,” said Tejas Vashi, Amazon's global team lead of the program.

The company has partnered with local firms in the countries they are launching the program.

It comes as the region pursues aggressive efforts to boost digital industries, with governments in Saudi Arabia and the UAE launching key policy initiatives centered on technology.


KSA and South Africa look to technology, desalination collaboration

KSA and South Africa look to technology, desalination collaboration
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 16 September 2021

KSA and South Africa look to technology, desalination collaboration

KSA and South Africa look to technology, desalination collaboration
  • Bilateral trade is still currently dominated by crude oil and its byproducts
  • Both countries share a desire for a diversified economy not dependent on the export of raw natural resources

South Africa has a long trading relationship with the Kingdom, and sees it as an important and strategic market in the Middle East for trade and co-operation in technology and water desalination, as well as for South African goods and services. 

Ahead of a Joint Business Hybrid In Person/Webinar to be hosted by the Federation of Saudi Chambers on Thursday, Arab News spoke to Imran Simmins, First Secretary Political at the South African Embassy in Riyadh, who said the bilateral trade is still currently dominated by crude oil and its byproducts.  

Business representatives in agriculture, food and entertainment, industry, healthcare, technology, tourism, defence, and mining sectors see plenty of potential for collaboration between both countries, and will use the event to explore bilateral growth opportunities together.

“Commodities from South Africa are mainly agricultural products and live animals. On the basis of Vision 2030 and the NDP 2030, with their focus on industrialization, we envisage a future dominated by trade in manufactured products,” Simmins said.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, both countries committed to use technology to improve their economies. He said the pandemic has forced technology to play a more central role in life in general, as well as how specifically economic activity is conducted. 

“This is one major field in which both countries will be collaborating in the future,” Simmins added.

Simmins added: “South Africa is becoming drier and drier with each drought spell being more serious and expansive than the previous one. The country is beginning to look beyond rainwater for its livelihood. Saudi’s seawater desalination expertise will definitely be crucial.”

Both countries share a desire for a diversified economy not dependent on the export of raw natural resources, a key part of both their developmental plans; the National Development Plan (NDP) in South Africa and Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia.

This has seen both nations commit to cleaner forms of energy despite being endowed with coal (South Africa) and the crude oil (from the Kingdom) that dominates trade relations. 

In 2018, King Salman announced a $10 billion investment in the South African economy. 

Aramco and the South African Ministry of Energy are currently exploring the possibility of building an oil refinery and a petrochemical plant in Richards Bay, on the country's north east coast. The refinery will serve the entire Southern African region. 

Trade in technology, goods, and services will need every assistance available from bilateral trade events before oil and natural resources cease to dominate trade between South Africa and the Kingdom.