Saudi Arabia has urged its citizens to accept junior-level jobs to support a drive to tackle unemployment caused by a rapid population growth, unstable oil sales and a preference for non-Saudi workers by the private sector.
Saudi Labour Minister Ghazi Al Qusaibi said joblessness is a big problem and criticised Saudis for seeking only senior-level jobs.
Speaking during a four-day national conference that covered joblessness and other social and economic issues, Qusaibi said: “We cannot tackle this problem by a magic wand and the ministry alone cannot alter the traditions and culture of this society… there is no such thing as junior or senior jobs because all jobs are good for Saudi citizens… our blood is not different from the blood of other peoples and races.
“All people in the world are looking for livelihood, even our prophets worked as farmers and shepherds.”
Qusaibi’s statement, the latest in a series of critical remarks against Saudi job seekers, reflect growing official disappointment with efforts to reverse an upward trend in unemployment in the world’s largest oil exporter.
The government has repeatedly blamed both the Saudi job-seekers and the private sector for the problem, saying most Saudis prefer the public sector for more attractive financial benefits or seek only senior-level jobs in the private sector.
It has also criticised local companies for preferring foreigners on the grounds that they are paid less, allowing the firms employing them to make higher profits.
Saudi Arabia does not publish periodical figures on the unemployment rate but according to independent Saudi estimates, the rate was more than 10 per cent in 2007. It was almost unchanged from the previous two years although the Kingdom is experiencing an economic boom due to high oil prices.
“The Saudi economy has made big leaps over the past six to seven years and growth in the private sector alone exceeded six per cent,” said a Saudi banker.
“During that period, growth in the Kingdom’s population was between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent, which means unemployment should be lower, but many jobs are taken by foreigners as the private sector always seeks cheap labour and Saudis shun the private sector because they seek senior jobs and more benefits.”
In local press remarks last week, Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Khaled Al Qusaibi said successive five-year development plans over the next 15 years would focus on ending poverty and tackling unemployment by achieving sustainable growth away from unpredictable oil exports.
“These plans, which are being drafted by many experts and specialists, will concentrate on improving the living standards of the citizens, tackling poverty and unemployment, achieving sustainable and balanced development, rationalising natural resources, encouraging investment, strengthening partnership between the public and private sector, and pursuing economic and social reform.
“We will also make sure development will reach all areas of the Kingdom.”
Saudi economists said they doubted such plans would eliminate unemployment. They said Saudi national population was growing much faster than the expatriate population and there were not enough incentives for the private sector to employ Saudis. Other key factors include social barriers for women’s work and the fact that the public sector has become overstaffed and could even slash jobs if the government decides to push ahead with privatisation plans.
“We should all work together to devise solutions for this serious problem instead of indulging in useless argument about what the government is doing,” the Labour Minister said. “We came here not to show off and demonstrate our skills but to discuss the problem and reach a common ground to work together.”
Despite its massive oil wealth of 262 billion barrels, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s proven crude reserves, Saudi Arabia is much less well off than other Gulf oil producers in terms of per capita income.
In 2007, the Kingdom’s per capita income was estimated at around SR58,000 (Dh57,000) compared to more than Dh165,000 in the UAE, Dh130,000 in Kuwait and as high as Dh255,000 in Qatar.