Saudization Fails to Stem the Tide of Foreign Workers

Javid Hassan, Arab News Staff
Publication Date: 
Tue, 2004-03-23 03:00

RIYADH, 23 March 2004 — Despite the government’s Saudization efforts, foreign workers keep pouring into the Kingdom. “Every day I bring 20 to 25 new arrivals from the airport. I know they are newcomers from the conversation they have with the people who welcome them,” Mohammed Razak, a limousine driver, told Arab News.

He said his experience and that of colleagues was that job-seekers keep coming on free visas, although such visas have been declared illegal. New arrivals from south and Southeast Asia include both professionals and unskilled workers. They enter the Kingdom on a work or other category of visa and then change their job description to land a job reserved for Saudis. All they have to do is pay SR1,000 at the Labor Office.

Only 500,000 Saudis are officially said to be working in the private sector, which is where the majority of the Kingdom’s six million expatriates work. This puts the level of Saudization of the work force in the private sector at eight percent, far below the 30 percent target set by the government.

According to Hisham Ferhat, a sales executive, companies have adopted a new ruse to artificially boost the level of Saudization of their work force.

“They sign a contract with a Saudi firm, which agrees to act as the expatriate employee’s sponsor. The actual employer pays the Saudi firm a fixed amount. This reduces the official foreign workforce of his company and pushes up the level of Saudization to the required level,” Hisham said. An executive said despite the ban recruitment of unskilled manpower continues. He attributed this to influence peddling or “wasta”.

The Manpower Council’s Secretary-General Abdul Wahed Al-Humaid has estimated that some 20,000 jobs would be created under the plan to Saudize 25 economic activities, mostly in sales. According to the plan, 100 percent Saudization of the work force should be achieved within three years. But economist Talal Mufti says: “The three-year grace period given to Saudize the retail industry was ignored during the first two years, which meant that the scheme had to be rushed through to achieve the target.

“This has created absurd situations, as in the case of a company from Cyprus which has been obliged by the labor office to employ ten security guards for manning two gates.”

Dr. Syed Khwaja of the Health Ministry said the main problem is one of mindset. “While it is true that a section of the Saudis are sincere and hardworking, unfortunately a sizable section of them have a laid-back attitude. They while away their time on phone calls, socializing and spending more time on prayers than is necessary. This is the reason why the private sector resists calls for Saudization and cuts corners wherever possible,” he adds.

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