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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s attempts to reform its expatriate-heavy labour market have put more than 600,000 locals into jobs at private companies, a senior official said yesterday, a sharp increase over previous rates.
Unemployment among men last year dropped to 6.1 percent, the lowest figure since 2000, deputy Labour Minister Mofraj Al Haqbani said after a press conference in Riyadh.
“It is the lowest since 13 years ago... I think next year, God willing, we will see better results,” he said. The Middle East’s largest economy grew by 6.8 percent last year, but private companies have traditionally been reluctant to employ Saudi workers, who are paid more than foreigners and enjoy more job protection.
Employment statistics are also skewed by the low level of women in work due to religious restrictions on gender mixing.
The world’s top oil exporter sees low employment among nationals as a long-term strategic challenge, a view given added impetus after joblessness in nearby countries contributed to the Arab spring uprisings.
Central bank figures from 2011 showed around nine in 10 Saudis in work were employed by the state, while more than 6 million foreign workers held roughly the same proportion of jobs at private companies.
The Labour Ministry has aggressively pushed reforms, overhauling an existing system of quotas for Saudi and foreign employment in the private sector and fining companies that employ more expatriate than local workers. The changes have provoked anger among some Saudi companies, which say they cannot find Saudis willing to do jobs seen as menial, such as in the labour-heavy construction sector. Reuters