INTERVIEW: Saudi labor reforms protect workers, preserve dignity: HRSD deputy

Sattam Amer Alharbi. (Supplied)
Sattam Amer Alharbi. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 December 2021

INTERVIEW: Saudi labor reforms protect workers, preserve dignity: HRSD deputy

Sattam Amer Alharbi. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Arabia launched numerous laws, programs to bolster workers’ rights under Labor Reform Initiative, says Sattam Amer Alharbi
  • Protections for expat workers were enhanced after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s governing authorities continue to enhance its labor reforms to improve the working environment and enhance the laws to protect workers’ rights and establish an attractive working environment.

Last year, the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development launched a Labor Reform Initiative that streamlines labor market procedure, defines precise mechanisms, improves career mobility, and protects the rights of employers and employees. In March of this year, the LRI announced further reforms by offering expats working in the private sector more freedoms concerning employment, including domestic helpers.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Sattam Amer Alharbi, deputy minister for control and development of work environment at the HRSD, said that the ministry, alongside other authoritative bodies in the Kingdom, has a clear framework to address workforce and employment issues, combat human trafficking, its challenges, preserving the rights of domestic workers and other matters of concern for both the employer and employee.

Human trafficking is recognized as a growing international phenomenon, but a uniform definition has yet to be adopted. The United Nations defines human trafficking as a crime that trades in people and exploits them for profit. Traffickers using fraudulent employment agencies coerce and deceive their victims take advantage of some of the most vulnerable groups who seek a better life.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The deputy minister said that human trafficking is a global problem and targets some of the most vulnerable groups, and many don’t comprehend the complexity of the term ‘human trafficking.’ In the Kingdom, the laws are clear, and authorities continue to raise awareness of defining this crime through campaigns.

• He said that the Kingdom has given this a top priority and taken concrete steps to counter human trafficking and Saudi Arabia’s leading role in preserving worker’s rights revolve around four main axes: Prevention, protection, assistance, protection through national and regional cooperation. Relevant authorities cooperate based on this strategy which is a clear indication of the Kingdom’s efforts to counter the crime.

The UN’s adopted the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in 2000 and entered into force in 2003. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, is the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons. The Kingdom, alongside 173 countries, signed the protocol and has since reaffirmed its firm rejection of all forms of human trafficking and has made significant efforts to eliminate it.

“Human trafficking is a global problem and targets some of the most vulnerable groups, and many don’t comprehend the complexity of the term “human trafficking.” In the Kingdom, the laws are clear, and authorities continue to raise awareness of defining this crime through campaigns,” said the deputy minister.

Article 3 in Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law has stipulated that any person who commits an act of trafficking in persons shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding fifteen years or a fine not exceeding SR1 million or by both.

“The Kingdom has given this a top priority and taken concrete steps to counter human trafficking and Saudi Arabia’s leading role in preserving worker’s rights revolve around four main axes; prevention, protection, assistance, protection through national and regional cooperation. Relevant authorities cooperate based on this strategy which is a clear indication of the Kingdom’s efforts to counter the crime,” said Alharbi.

“The HRSD’s role is not simply to issue work permits, employee conflicts, Saudization for example, it plays a significant role in combating this crime as well. As a member of the national committee, the ministry, alongside other cooperative bodies, oversaw strategies that fight this crime which is very much related to labor market such as forcing employment of a labor worker, delaying domestic worker’s salaries, force labor of minors or children, working under difficult conditions, insufficient housing and more. We deal with many issues across the spectrum that degrade their dignity,” he added.

As many as 9-10 million foreign workers live and work in the Kingdom. The deputy minister stressed that the ministry had taken significant steps to protect the rights of labor workers, such as digitizing their contracts and the wages protection system.

“The most common offense is the refusal or continuous delay of wages. If a company delays the issuance of any worker’s salary, the ministery is immediately notified and actions are taken to ensure workers’ wages are paid,” adding that other common offenses include forcing a labor worker to pay their permit renewal fees or additional fees that the employer is responsible for that are escalated to the Public Prosecutor’s office to investigate.

The ministry’s ongoing field inspections monitor institutions and provide information to the workers as many of them might not know their labor rights or the means of filing a complaint. These inspections are essential as they can identify cases of human trafficking.”

The ministry has established a special division and committee to deal with the varied issues of human trafficking. Their services are numerous, from protection units to follow-up cases to providing health care and hiring lawyers to defend expat workers and working closely with several authorities, including foreign envoys.

“There are many issues that are unclear to many employers and employees still. Acts can land them in trouble with the law, and it’s essential to understand the laws. Each case brought to our attention can go two ways; for example, if wages are delayed by a month or two, a penalty is issued but won’t go beyond. Still, if an employee hasn’t received it in 3-4 months, it reaches a point where it falls under human trafficking crime, and the case is escalated to the Public Prosector’s office.

In nearly 40 years, over 20 million expat workers have passed through Saudi Arabia; many can still be found living in the Kingdom today, making it their home.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, Saudi Arabia’s governing authorities have made it a priority to ensure the protection of every resident in the Kingdom, legal or illegal resident, providing them with free healthcare if needed, issue tickets for those who want to return to their countries, automated renewal of exit and entry visas and offering the COVID-19 vaccine free for all.


Special fun-filled activities lined up for young Jeddah Season visitors

The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
Updated 6 min 17 sec ago

Special fun-filled activities lined up for young Jeddah Season visitors

The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
  • Little Village zones feature favorite characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, L.O.L Surprise!

JEDDAH: A fun-filled agenda awaits children at the Jeddah Pier amusement park, one of the entertainment attractions at this year’s Jeddah Season festival of activities.

The specially created Little Village large play area offers games and events for youngsters through to June 28 in three activity zones featuring children’s characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, and L.O.L Surprise!

The Blippi-branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts, and the iconic Blippi appeared for a soft opening of the Little Village during which visitors took part in a meet and greet, followed by a photo session.

The L.O.L Surprise! activity corner gives girls the opportunity to wear their favorite dresses, enjoy hair and makeup sessions, and try out cooking, singing, and dancing, and special fashion shows let little fashionistas take a ramp walk.

Meanwhile, the Peppa Pig activity corner has a range of activities including painting classes and the chance to play in the cartoon character’s grocery store.

Fadi Yousuf, site manager of Hwadi Events, Jeddah Pier’s organizing company, said: “Packed with wonderful and imaginative activities, we aim to create memories that will turn the Jeddah Season into a world of unforgettable stories for children.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The specially created Little Village large play area offers games and events for youngsters through to June 28 in three activity zones featuring children’s characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, and L.O.L Surprise!

• Jeddah Pier, open daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., offers 39 entertainment attractions, seven diverse international experiences, and a roller coaster, among a host of other events. And musical parades including acrobats, and people dressed as trees, zombies, and track-suited monkeys are an integral part of the zone’s events.

“With the help of Spacetoon, we were delighted to bring the much-loved character Blippi to Jeddah and receive an amazing response from the fans.

“Apart from enjoying the activities, kids will be able to purchase Blippi, L.O.L Surprise!, and Peppa Pig products onsite.”

Jeddah Pier, open daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., offers 39 entertainment attractions, seven diverse international experiences, and a roller coaster, among a host of other events.

And musical parades including acrobats, and people dressed as trees, zombies, and track-suited monkeys are an integral part of the zone’s events.

Jeddah Season will also be hosting a toy festival running until May 23 at Jeddah Superdome, the world’s largest geodesic dome without pillars, and kids who missed meeting Blippi at Jeddah Pier will get another chance at the festival.

More than 40 international toy brands are attending the event that will include stands and exhibitions, live shows, and performances of the Smurfs, Sonic, Peppa Pig, and other character favorites.

The annual Jeddah Season festival aims to highlight the city’s rich heritage and culture through a total of 2,800 activities in nine zones over the event period.

Being held under the slogan, Our Lovely Days, the second Jeddah Season follows on from the success of Riyadh Season that recorded more than 15 million visits over five months.

The festival season offers 70 interactive experiences, more than 60 recreational activities, seven Arab and two international plays, marine events, a circus, four international exhibitions, and a host of other services for families.

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Saudi artists shed light on the resurgence of analog photography

Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
Updated 20 May 2022

Saudi artists shed light on the resurgence of analog photography

Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
  • While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public

RIYADH: At a time when one might view analog photography as an outdated craft, it is, in fact, becoming increasingly popular across the world, including in Saudi Arabia.

“Photos are the closest humanity has gotten to time travel,” said photographer Abdullah Al-Azzaz, whose has followed in the footsteps of his father, Saleh, who was also a photographer.

The newly established Bayt Al-Malaz — a creative space in the heart of Riyadh’s Malaz District — recently hosted an intriguing conversation about the significance and popularity of analog photography between Al-Azzaz and Princess Reem Al-Faisal, moderated by Sarah Assiri. The event was part of Bayt Al-Malaz’s “Moflmeen” discussion series.

HIGHLIGHT

While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public. In Riyadh, the number of studios where film can be developed has fallen from four to just a single space — Haitham Studios. This is largely due to the financial cost of establishing such a studio and the turnaround time for film development.

The two photographers addressed the issue of why — when digital cameras are so ubiquitous and easy to use — analog is making a comeback.

“My photography revolves around permanence, praise, eternality, and the spiritual side of us. The individual is a soul and not a body,” said Al-Faisal. “For us, film represents the soul. We are all born with natural instincts, and film, in its natural form, is untouched. It represents the soul that transforms after birth in dealing with life, accumulations, and memories — bad and good. It’s a way of expressing humanity.”

Al-Azzaz said that, for him, it was more about the technique than the philosophy of it all. “The experience of developing in a darkroom is so enriching. It separates you from the world, totally quiet and dark. It’s just you and the photo. It allows you to reflect on the photo more and gives you more freedom in reimagining it,” he said.

Photo manipulation, he explained, is not exclusive to digital photography. Before the existence of Photoshop, images could be manipulated in the darkroom using retouching techniques and tools, including cropping, brushing, dodging, burning and masking.

To really understand the true art of photography, some would argue, it is important to learn its history. Digital photography is not a replacement for film, but another medium entirely. “In any art, not just photography, we have to have a cultural, historical, and technical awareness… we are all an accumulation,” said Al-Faisal. “We are a product of our society and a product of our time. We cannot claim we aren’t affected [by these things]. Whoever claims otherwise is delusional.”

While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public. In Riyadh, the number of studios where film can be developed has fallen from four to just a single space — Haitham Studios. This is largely due to the financial cost of establishing such a studio and the turnaround time for film development.

The founder of the studio, Haitham Al-Sharif, explained the immersive nature of analog photography. “I chose film photography because I hated having no connection with my photos. With film photography, I take a max of 40 photos in a session. I can’t see them; I have to live in the moment, I have to listen and smell the streets, I have to talk to my subject if I’m taking their portraits, I have to listen to the music if I’m at a concert,” he told Arab News. “To me, that is art. That is the beauty of film.”

The lengthy process involved in analog photography can be intimidating and off-putting to amateur photographers. That’s why the development of the first digital camera in 1975 was so groundbreaking. Now, in an economy driven by content creation and visual media, content production is easier — and quicker — than ever before. But to some, the key difference lies in the creative experience itself. Some analog photographers suggest it is a way to truly connect with the moment, even if the results are not always what society deems ‘Insta-worthy.’

“When you can’t see the photo you aren’t forced to change it to make it the same as what the media thinks is good or what a magazine thinks is good. Film forces you to be patient and slow. It forces you to live in the (moment),” said Al-Sharif. “As a film photographer, you live in front of the lens as much as at the back of the lens. You become more connected to what you are photographing.”


Europe keen to advance level of partnership with Saudi Arabia: Envoy

EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet with delegates at the Europe Day reception in Riyadh. (Supplied)
EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet with delegates at the Europe Day reception in Riyadh. (Supplied)
Updated 20 May 2022

Europe keen to advance level of partnership with Saudi Arabia: Envoy

EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet with delegates at the Europe Day reception in Riyadh. (Supplied)
  • EU unveils first long-term strategy to shape future Gulf ties

RIYADH: The European Union’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet confirmed on Friday that the bloc is keen to boost its partnership with the Kingdom.

The EU unveiled its first long-term strategy to shape future Gulf ties on Wednesday, when the High Representative and the European Commission adopted a joint communication — “Strategic Partnership with the Gulf.”

EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia Patrick Simonnet cutting cake on Europe Day at Cultural Palace, in DQ Riyadh. (Supplied)

“At a time of insecurity and significant challenges to the rules-based international order, aggravated by Russia’s war on Ukraine, the European Union and Gulf countries stand to gain from a stronger and more strategic partnership stretching over a number of key areas. We need to work more closely together on stability in the Gulf and the Middle East, on global security threats, energy security, climate change and the green transition, digitalization, trade and investment. We also need to strengthen contacts between students, researchers, businesses and citizens,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said as he unveiled the plan.

The long-term strategy — the first of its kind between the two groups — will be pivotal to EU- GCC relations. We need each other. The EU and the GCC have a lot to gain in reinforcing the partnership.

Patrick Simonnet, EU ambassador to Saudi Arabia

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Simonnet said: “The long-term strategy — the first of its kind between the two groups — will be pivotal to EU-GCC relations. We need each other. The EU and the GCC have a lot to gain in reinforcing the partnership. That’s what we felt in different visits over the last 12 months. There was a realization that we had a common interest in stepping up our partnership. It’s about the economy, how we can better support our respective strategies, Saudi Vision 2030, and EU Green Deal.

“We have been importing fossil fuel from Saudi Arabia for a long time. We are going to continue, but we would like to switch to a more sustainable consumption of renewable energy. We know that the Gulf has enormous potential to export renewable energies, including green hydrogen. Saudi Arabia has made huge investments and is keen to be a global supplier of hydrogen, and it would be very useful for us to import this green hydrogen to achieve our own climate change targets. It would also be good for the Kingdom, for its own climate change targets. So there’s a very good match that we can have between us,” he continued.

“We can work together on the regional crisis, there is a great deal of alignment between our views on the Middle East peace process, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Lebanon… The strategy proposes that we work even more closely together on regional stability issues. Security cooperation is also very important. We wanted to have a strategy which was more political, more security oriented. We are negotiating the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), and if we can have a positive outcome (there), we could build on that to hopefully contribute even more to stability and security in the Gulf,” said the EU envoy.

“We are the biggest provider of foreign direct investment here, and the GCC is the second-biggest trading partner for the EU, so we will look at how to re-engage on the free trade agreement (FTA),” Simonnet added.

The joint communication also aims to improve cooperation in higher education and culture. One of the goals is to attract more Saudi students to Europe and European students or teachers to the Kingdom, he explained.

Another goal, according to Simonnet, is “visa-free travel to Europe” for all countries. “We are very much aware that visa liberalization could help the exchanges between both sides,” he said.

He added: “I met Saudi travel bloggers a few days back. It was interesting to discuss all the hidden gems in Saudi Arabia in terms of tourism, the places where we could bring a lot more tourists, and the same thing in Europe — there are many more destinations in Europe that could be discovered by Saudi tourists, so visa liberalization is important.”

In future, according to the joint communication, there will be more regular meetings at ministerial levels between EU and GCC foreign ministers and ministers of energy.

“Europe is proposing to step up the game of relations,” said the envoy, adding that the EU will increase its diplomatic delegations in the region, expanding on its existing delegations in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait.
 


Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan

Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan. (SPA)
Updated 21 May 2022

Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan

Saudi Arabia sends 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan. (SPA)
  • KSrelief distributed 700 food baskets in Somaliland, benefiting 40,200 individuals, and 400 food baskets to people in Sarkhrud, Afghanistan, benefiting hundreds of families

BISHKEK: Saudi Arabia has sent 25 tons of dates to Kyrgyzstan as a gift. The dates were delivered by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center at an event attended by Saudi Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Ibrahim bin Radi Al-Radi and other officials.

Recently, KSrelief also delivered 50 tons of dates to the Maldives.

Maldivian Islamic Minister Dr. Ahmed Zahir Ali thanked the Saudi government for the gift, noting that it reflected the close ties between the two countries.

The gifts are part of the humanitarian aid programs provided by the Saudi government to a number of countries, with the aim of benefitting vulnerable families in different regions of the world.

KSrelief also distributed 700 food baskets in Somaliland, benefiting 40,200 individuals, and 400 food baskets to people in Sarkhrud, Afghanistan, benefiting hundreds of families.

The center is also continuing to roll out its water supply and environmental projects in Yemen’s Hajjah and Saada governorates. In one month, more than 15 million liters of water was pumped into tanks across the two regions.

KSrelief has implemented 1,997 projects worth nearly $6 billion in 83 countries since its inception in May 2015, in cooperation with 175 partners.

The areas that have benefited most from the center’s projects are Yemen ($4 billion), Palestine ($369 million), Syria ($327 million) and Somalia ($216 million).

 


Saudi aid agency reviews project to protect women in Yemen

KSrelief reviews project to protect women in Yemen. (SPA)
KSrelief reviews project to protect women in Yemen. (SPA)
Updated 21 May 2022

Saudi aid agency reviews project to protect women in Yemen

KSrelief reviews project to protect women in Yemen. (SPA)
  • The center’s humanitarian work is carried out with the cooperation of 175 partners, including UN organizations, as well as local and international NGOs

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center recently took part virtually in a final conference to review a project aimed at protecting and empowering women and girls affected by gender-based violence in Yemen.

The center was represented by Mubarak bin Saeed Al-Dossari, director of the branches department at KSrelief, who said that projects offered by the center had helped 114 million women in 73 countries, at a total cost of almost $534 million.

He said that the center’s humanitarian work is carried out with the cooperation of 175 partners, including UN organizations, as well as local and international NGOs.

Projects and programs offered by the center are customized depending on the beneficiaries and their individual circumstances, Al-Dossari said.

Since its establishment in 2015, KSrelief has been a leading center for relief and humanitarian work, conveying the Kingdom’s values ​​to the world, he added.

Al-Dossari expressed the center’s pride in cooperating with UN Women to ensure knowledge-based sustainability in areas in which they provide protection and empowerment, especially in conflict situations.

Dina Zorba, UN Women representative in Iraq and Yemen, thanked KSrelief for funding the project, as well as designing seven training manuals in accordance with international standards aimed at raising the efficiency of women’s support and protection centers.

The project aims to establish centers for the protection and empowerment of women, and train workers to provide protection programs for women affected by gender-based violence in the governorates of Aden and Taiz.

It also seeks to develop resources, training materials and guides to ensure knowledge-based sustainability.