Saudi Arabia has nearly 448,000 jobless citizens despite an ongoing government campaign to replace its large foreign workforce with Saudis.
Although the Gulf Kingdom has repeatedly urged the private sector to employ more Saudis, the sector remains dominate by expatriate workers, estimated at nearly 6.9 million, Minister of Labour Adel Faqih said.
The expatriate workers in the private sector account for more than 80 per cent of the total foreign workers of nearly 8.4 million in the world’s dominant oil exporter.
“Our records show that around 448,000 Saudi men and women are unemployed against 8.4 million employed expatriates, including 6.9 million in the private sector,” Faqid told a labour conference in the western Red Sea port of Jeddah.
An aggressive campaign launched by Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, last year to tackle festering unemployment has produced nearly 250,000 jobs for nationals in the private sector in the first 10 months of the programme.
The figure is more than five times the number of jobs created by Riyadh in its wealthy private sector over the past five years.
About 195,000 of the jobs during that period were taken up by Saudi men while the rest went to women, Faqih said, according to Saudi newspapers.
Saudi Arabia, which controls around a fifth of the world’s proven oil deposits, launched a landmark job nationalization programme, dubbed Nitaqat (ranges), in mid 2011 in a bid to tackle national unemployment, which was estimated at around 11 per cent at the end of 2010. The level is far higher among women and university graduates, ranging between 20 and 45 per cent.
Experts have described Nitaqat as the most radical measure taken by the Saudi government to force its massive private sector to employ more Saudis following the failure of previous procedures and expansion in local unemployment.
The programme comes amidst reports that unemployment in Saudi Arabia continued to widen because of the private sector’s preference of cheaper foreign labour and the fact that the population is growing faster than the economy Officials said the initiative could create over 400,000 jobs for Saudis every year.