I received negative responses to my article [Five Decisive Years] about Saudi Arabia’s developmental five -year plan and the crisis of rising unemployment amongst Saudi citizens, with people saying that I had gone too far with regards to my belief that jobs are scarce [in Saudi Arabia]. The truth is that the presence of unemployment represents a genuine problem and this is not something that I have made up, official statistics confirm this, and the five-year plan acknowledged this, stating that unemployment rates have reached 10 percent, while there are official statements from the Ministry of Labour that acknowledge that the rate of unemployment amongst educated women has reached 28 percent.
However I was informed that this unemployment is not all as a result of a scarcity of jobs. I was told that there are a huge number of jobs available, but that job-seekers reject these because they do not meet certain specifications with regards to the nature, location, or salary, of the jobs desired. These job seekers want to be employed in air-conditioned offices or in the military, and they consider service industry or manual labour jobs to be shameful. The other issue is that these job seekers want to be employed in their city of residence, and refuse to take jobs that require them to move to a different location. They also want to start any job in question with a high position and a good salary. This is why the vast majority of companies prefer to employ foreigners, which prompted the government to open the door to foreign employment.
All of these job-seekers want to work in cities, to the point that cities are seeing a huge population increase while small villages are dying out. The majority of Saudi citizens are employed in office jobs, and this has resulted in 8 million manual labour jobs being given to foreigners. There is a cultural flaw here, as the concept of work has changed. In the recent past, Saudi Arabians worked as drivers, cleaners, laborers, and farmers; they would travel to seek work in Kuwait or Iraq or India, working simple jobs in order to earn money for their families.
However today, one of the most prominent features of Saudi society is the presence of foreign workers who play an essential part of daily life whether this is undertaking household chores, or working in stores, or on farms, or carrying out manual labour. There are even some foreign workers who are working in unnecessary jobs, for example there is the porter who carries your luggage at the airport who is invariably a foreigner; this is an unnecessary job! While the person who lifts your luggage onto the x-ray machine is also a foreigner working an unnecessary job, and one that cannot be found in any other country in the world! It is rare to find foreign domestic workers or foreign drivers in the richer and more developed countries, and if you do find them – working in hotels, for example – they are usually local nationals. While the majority of those working fast-food restaurants are young people on school holiday or at university, and they are not necessarily from poor households, for in the majority of cases their families have a higher financial income than their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, but rather the concept of work in their society means that they have been brought up to shoulder their own responsibilities. I have heard colleagues who are researchers at university remark that westerners are ungenerous and miserly for taking away their children’s pocket money and kicking them out of the house after they reach adulthood, however the reality is that do not understand the culture of others. The heart of western culture is based upon the concept of encouraging the youth to rely on themselves, and to build their own futures, not to become dependent on their families or society. Since childhood, they begin planning and saving for their retirement, or the possibility of disability, undertaking their full responsibilities and working whether this is in a petrol station or restaurant.
Although we are all aware of the social problem [caused by unemployment], I am also certain that in the end the state is responsible for arranging the market and guaranteeing the necessary balance, and one of its duties is to encourage good habits and put in place fair employment rules in the private sector which do not harm citizens in terms of minimum salary, health insurance, and pension.
This is our society with all its good and bad features, and the story goes that an adviser went to a state official to complain about one of the country’s social customs. The official replied “what do you want me to do? Import people from Sweden?”
All we want is for people to act as their ancestors did, not imitate the westerners or the Chinese; we are talking about a million citizens who are out of work and do not have an income, while more than 30 billion dollars are going to foreign workers every year.