Kingdom’s jobless hits 10.5%

JEDDAH: There are about 8 million foreigners in Saudi Arabia annually remitting about SR100 billion while unemployment among Saudis in the Kingdom has reached 10.5 percent, Labor Minister Adel Fakeih said. He added this is equivalent to 500,000 jobless Saudi men and women looking for jobs.

“There are nine employed foreign workers for each single unemployed Saudi,” he said Saturday evening at a meeting with businessmen, traders and representatives of the private sector at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI).

The meeting was organized at the chamber by the Merchants’ Seat, which was established long ago by Jeddah traders as a forum to bring them together to discuss their mutual issues.

During the meeting, which lasted for three hours, the minister spoke at length about the issues related to the Saudization of jobs, unemployment and recruitment of foreign manpower.

“The rate of job nationalization increased during the past three months as a result of the initiatives and programs adopted by the ministry including Nitaqat and Hafiz,” he said.

Fakeih said the ministry would issue on its website quarterly reports about the state of the labor market and the rate of Saudization. “This is the first time in its history the ministry will issue statistical reports about unemployment and nationalization of jobs,” he added.

He revealed the rate of Saudization in the government was 90 percent, 20 percent in investment companies and 10 percent in private establishments. The current target for the private sector is 15 percent.

The Minister said compared to other countries, the rate of unemployment in the Kingdom is very small. “However, judging by our immense wealth and strong economy, this figure is considered extremely high,” he added.

Fakeih said 2 million out of the 8 million foreigners in the Kingdom were housemaids who were not subject to the Nitaqat program. “The program only applies to trading and economic establishments,” he explained.

Quoting statistics of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), Fakeih said foreigners annually transmit to their respective countries about SR100 billion. “If a small portion of this amount is kept inside the Kingdom, it would give a further boost to the economy,” he added.

The minister said the Hafiz program proved the number of unemployed Saudis was much higher than the official figures released by the Department of General Statistics and Information.

He said the ministry has adopted short and long-term solutions for the Saudization of jobs. “The short-term solutions are being implemented by the ministry itself while the long-term ones are being executed in collaboration with other concerned government departments, the Council of Saudi Chambers and others,” he said.

He said there were only 13 trade activities according to the Ministry’s old classification system that has now risen to more than 45 including shops selling gold, restaurants and others.

“The establishments and companies were classified into five groups according to their size, including large, medium, small, very small and sole trader,” he said adding only about 50 percent of the private companies were classified in the green level according to the Nitaqat program.

Fakeih said more than 600 employees were working in a contact center to receive telephone calls from Saudi men and women wishing to receive monthly benefits from the Hafiz unemployment program. “These employees handle more than 13,000 calls every day,” he said.

The minister said there was no need to establish more labor offices in various parts of the Kingdom as all dealings with the ministry, including issuance of work visas, were done electronically.

He said teams from the ministry were available in malls and shopping centers to help companies improve their Saudization levels. “The ministry does not intervene in the methods of employing Saudis but it does have a say in determining the salaries to be paid to Saudis in close coordination with SAMA and the Ministry of Interior,” he said.

The minister told businessmen interested in recruiting qualified manpower from outside for wages cheaper than those of Saudis that the ministry was ready to help on condition that they fill some of their vacancies with qualified Saudi cadres.

He said visas that were already issued to import manpower from countries experiencing political unrest such as Syria would be directed to other peaceful countries. “Our standing policy on recruitment was that we should not favor a certain nationality over others,” he said.

He said though work visas to recruit housemaids from the Philippines had been halted, the recruitment of nurses from the country was still continuing.

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