Nitiqat is the newest version of programs designed to put Saudi Arabia’s nationals in jobs rather than filling the jobs with foreign workers. Its goals are commendable. Its implementation, though, is getting some pushback from Saudi employers and businesses, Saudi Gazette reports. They point out that there are simply some jobs – plumbers, masons, construction workers, for example – for which there are no Saudis available to be employed. But the law says they must hire them and cannot fill vacant slots with foreign workers. What’s more, the companies will be fined for not having Saudis in those jobs.
The employers have a point. For various reasons, including prestige, pay, and working conditions, there just aren’t that many Saudis who are interested in hard, physically demanding work. The companies cannot invent skilled employees overnight. At best, they will have to find ways to create them over time. There’s an argument to be made that employers have some duty to train their would-be workers, but I think that’s a limited duty. Companies should not have to set up their own vocational schools to scoop up students (if they can find them) at the secondary school level and teach them all they need to know to perform effectively. This is far more a role for government. The Saudi government does have vocational and technical schools. It does not, however, have the power to just throw students into them, telling them that they will be trained to lay bricks or clear drains. The students themselves have to choose to enter those skilled professions.
But the argument then comes back to the employers. They cannot treat the jobs (and employers) as beneath contempt, treating them badly, and paying them the least amount possible. While they cannot change social attitudes about certain jobs, they can make the jobs more attractive, largely by increasing pay and bettering working conditions. This is expensive, though. The first to start paying his plumbers a Saudi-competitive salary is immediately at a disadvantage to other companies continuing to pay risibly low foreign worker salaries. He’ll lose contracts because his bids will necessarily be higher.
One solution to this would be for the Saudi government to establish uniform minimum wages, applied to both Saudi and foreign workers equally. This would push up the costs for all contractors equally. Consumers of these services assuredly won’t like having to pay more for them; minimum wages would also exert inflationary pressures on the national economy.
The question comes down to a simpler one: Is putting Saudis into jobs worth the pain and expense?
RIYADH — Several leading businessmen and contractors have severely criticized the Nitaqat system enforced by the Ministry of Labor to boost Saudization.
These businessmen are especially critical of the way the ministry has turned a deaf ear to their observations on the negative aspects of the system. The negatives, the businessmen pointed out, will adversely impact their investments especially in projects which have been hampered by Nitaqat.
“The system has started biting us because most of the government projects awarded to us are faltering; this may lead to the collapse of our contracting companies which have been built after decades of hard work,” the businessmen were quoted by the Arabic press as saying Saturday.
Butti Al-Manqassi, a Saudi contractor whose company is implementing a series of government projects in development and education in different parts of the Kingdom, claims that his company has been badly affected by the ministry’s program. “I have hundreds of vacant jobs in my company which could not be filled by Saudis due to the nature of the work,” he said.