Last Updated: Thu Oct 11, 2012 06:34 am (KSA) 03:34 am (GMT)

Employment remains the larger issue

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed

Employment and unemployment remains the most important topic in almost all countries of the world, the number one burden on governments, and the measure of their success and failure.

Until a few years ago, employment was not an issue in countries such as Saudi Arabia. But today it is the major topic and the most explosive one. And because the government is the largest custodial body, it became primarily responsible for the problem as well as for finding the solution.

It may seem strange when thousands of young people do not find jobs in a country that is the top among the world’s oil exporters, but this is the painful reality today, and the most serious problem for tomorrow.

The problem has been caused by a number of reasons: The first is poor education that does not qualify young people for field work. The second is the tremendous increase in population that makes about 60 percent of them under the age of 30. The third reason is the government’s mismanagement of its resources and poor future planning. This is easy to prove given the fact that there are about six million foreign workers and tens of thousands of its citizens are without jobs.

Although the discussion on this subject is complex, it is not sufficient to make accusations and look for easy solutions. However, the problem can easily increase in magnitude and speed that is far greater than the government’s capacity and momentum and will find itself in serious trouble very soon.

What could Gulf citizens do in a state whose people believe that it is rich? Of course, the word “rich” is a relative issue. In the U.S., Wal-Mart grocery stores’ revenues alone are double the earnings of Saudi Arabia. You can also say that on the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s income is three times the equivalent of the income of Egypt’s government, with a population that is three times larger than Saudi Arabia.

Many reiterate phrases such as, “they do not want simple jobs,” a fact or general impression that may not be totally true. And there are those who say, “they are not eligible to work.” This is the worst excuse, for it means that it is the government’s problem, which is responsible for education and training, and citizens are only the final product. Certainly the private sector is not likely to pay large salaries because it would cause higher prices of its products and the wrath of the Saudi consumer, and so on.

Recently I was interested by an indirect discussion where readers wrote in response to a statement by one of the officials of the international fund organization, who was visiting Saudi Arabia. Firstly, this is what the official said: “The labor market in the Kingdom — as is the case in other countries in the Gulf — has to some extent a unique character, in terms of the large numbers of expatriate workers. Most of the migrant laborers work in jobs due to manual labor shortages within the Saudi community, and therefore are not considered direct competitors to Saudi nationals.”

An anonymous reader replied to the international expert via a forum website saying that, “Until four decades ago, and with the production of oil, there were occupations that were dominated by Saudis even in the presence of foreign workers. And now the opposite is true, and jobs became monopolized by foreigners in the presence of local unemployment. Do you want examples?

Salesmen, professional drivers for companies, taxis, trucks, heavy equipment, farmers, fishermen, in addition to many manual skills such as smiths, builders, etc. The current minister of petroleum began his career as a janitor and messenger in Aramco. A former minister’s father was a plumber. Dear expert, the problem lies in wages. If doors for recruitment in Europe and America were opened wide as we have, 90 percent of Europeans and the Americans would become unemployed. If Saudi citizens were given the same salary as garbage collectors in New York, they would have competed for it.”

This Saudi commentator explained the situation the best he could pinpointing where the problem lies, the management of the job market for both the public and private sectors. Although there are those who differ with him, citing that the Saudis today are not the same Saudis of the bygone years, they would reject such simple jobs no matter how high the wages. And if they accepted, and wages were raised to the level of the salary of garbage collector in New York, the high cost of products and prices become unbearable, who would build his house for twice the price construction today, for example?

I repeat what I already wrote in the past: “Our government is lucky, with the Gulf states as a good example, she gets income without efforts and the situation can be repaired. This cannot be said for the government of Yemen, which is a poor country and without resources, nor for Egypt with its meager resources and dense population. Their mission is almost impossible.”

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed is the general manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the Saudi-based Arab News on Oct. 11, 2012

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