History has taught us right decisions do not necessarily have to be popular ones. Decisions that at first receive a significant share of objection, rejection, reservation and refusal, did not reveal their complete wisdom and truth until later. This came to mind while observing the tough decisions and policies that the Saudi minister of labor, Adel Fakeih, has ventured to take.
Adel Fakeih, in fact, is the one responsible for changing the current job market culture which, over the last three decades, has become so inert and stagnant—so dependent on cheap foreign labor, which has become an essential and indispensable component of the Saudi economy.
Saudization, the national policy to encourage employment of Saudi nationals in the private sector, is not new to the Kingdom; however, the required coordination, cooperation and coherence to realize it was lacking. Tendering has always been made in a manner whereby more emphasis is laid on the cheapest labor, without taking into consideration the soaring unemployment rates among Saudis who refuse to be recruited for such abnormally low wages.
Moreover, there is constant attention paid to university education, with less focus on vocational education and technical training—which is the most prevalent type of education among the cheap foreign workforce—even though jobs offered to university graduates remain limited in number when compared to other professions. In Germany, for example, 85% of those who finish their secondary education go to technical colleges rather than universities.
In fact, the data and statistics recently issued by the Ministry of Economy and Planning on the numbers of foreign workers in the country are not wholly accurate. By minimizing the real numbers of foreign workers, the ministry offered an inaccurate picture of reality.
With the recent decisions and strategies administered by the minister of labor, however, tens of thousands of male and female Saudis have been recruited in a record time. There is a chance for more to be employed soon. Still, it will not be possible to “Saudi-ize” all the jobs available today.
If there is still hope for a full Saudization to take place, there must be an actual integration between the policies of education and training, the manner in which tenders are made, and the labor system. The system should protect both the business and its owner. Hence, to reduce damages, the relationship must be evenly balanced and in conformity with the labor system.
Adel Fakeih, the minister of labor, endured harsh insults and criticism by ill-wishers who would never dare to express themselves in public. Despite this, he always made tough-yet-convincing arguments about the importance of finding solutions and the necessity for everyone, not just the private sector, to contribute. For him, there lies the real challenge. Therefore, everyone must take part to make this noble enterprise succeed. Most importantly, everyone must be accountable and liable to punishment if found guilty of negligence or corruption.
To succeed in this challenge is a matter of public interest. Failure will have risky consequences for everyone. It is true that the Saudi minister of labor has competently accomplished a task that is both unpleasant and uneasy; however, his accomplishment will definitely go down in history. Therefore, he deserves our respect and appreciation.