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The New Arab

Saudi Arabia wants to ban expats from working at grocery stores

Saudi Arabia hopes to make components of society and political economy dominated by Saudis [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 July, 2017

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In a climate that is becoming increasingly hostile to expats, this move could put poorer, more vulnerable workers in Saudi Arabia at risk.
In its latest move to curb unemployment, Saudi Arabia has announced plans to ban non-Saudis from working at grocery stores.

The Saudi Ministry of Labour and Social Development (MLSD) released a draft decision in which jobs at grocery stores will become 100 percent 'Saudised,' a process which seeks to make components of Saudi society and political economy dominated by Saudis themselves.

It is claimed that this move will open up more than 20,000 job opportunities for Saudi citizens during the first year of the implementation of the decision, according to ministerial sources citied by local Al-Madina daily.

The ministry was also considering limiting work in food and soft drinks mobile vans to Saudis. This is expected to generate about 6,000 job opportunities for citizens.

The Saudi Shurra Council recently asked the ministries of labour and social development and municipal and rural affairs to close down small supply stores run by expats and issue retail licenses only to big stores which are capable of employing a large number of Saudi citizens.

The Council requested this on the belief that such a move will boost the economy.

However, in a climate that is becoming increasingly hostile to expats, this move could put poorer, more vulnerable workers in Saudi Arabia at risk.

Expats are already at the mercy of their luck, based on how well their kafeel (sponsor) treats them.

This means they are at higher risk of being victim to the detrimental effects of the Kafala system, deported or abused.

The controversial sponsorship regime, known as the Kafala system, is widespread across the Gulf and other parts of the Middle East and North African region. 

The system puts the employer in control of the visa status of workers, leaving them subject to deportation at any moment in time. It often, though not always, leads to workers being treated as property of their employers, leaving the worker vulnerable to exploitation. 

Social media has played a role in antagonising hostility against expats.

Earlier this year, a Saudi woman became famous after creating a Snapchat account advertising her services to interrogate and verbally abuse "misbehaving" domestic workers.

She was often called in when Saudi employers believed workers had casted a spell on a household, or if the employee was on their phone.

Someone reacted to this by urging Saudi men to "get a second wife" rather a domestic worker, because "they are now the same price".

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