Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have been forced to leave Saudi Arabia during the last couple of years, with 250,000 deported during the last three months alone, according to interior ministry figures.
One of the main aims behind these expulsions is to provide more jobs for Saudis (even though most Saudis would not dream of applying for the menial sort of work left behind by the vast majority of expelled migrants).
To help justify this, Saudi officials have made some startling if vague claims about the success of their "Saudisation" programme. In January, for example, the labour minister made
a series of assertions:
The private sector has employed more Saudis in the past few months than it had in the last 30 years.
The employment level of Saudis has gone up by 1.5% since the implementation of the new labour laws in November.
"Saudisation" has gone up to more than 30%.
Despite that, several members of the Shura Council (Saudi Arabia's unelected parliament) have been challenging the official claims. One accused companies of manipulating the system "to give the impression that they have helped Saudis get employed" when in fact they have not.
Others pointed out that the Human Resources Development Fund has spent 12 billion riyals ($3.2 billion), supposedly on creating jobs for Saudis, at a time when unemployment has actually risen.
A report from Abha in today's Saudi Gazette sheds some more light on what is going on. It says more than 30 private schools have been found employing "ghost" teachers (with financial support from the Human Resources Development Fund) – thus artificially inflating the "Saudisation" total:
"On paper the schools employed over 2,000 Saudi teachers. The schools signed contracts with the teachers, but they were not actually working for them. The average monthly salary the schools paid to these ghost teachers was SR2,000 ($533) while they received SR2,500 ($667) in assistance from the Human Resources Development Fund for each teacher."
The paper adds that two government agencies have now started investigations.
In an article for Al-Eqtisadiah (reprinted in English by the Saudi Gazette), Abdul Hamid al-Amri questions the labour ministry's claim that the number of Saudis employed in the private sector has increased by 724,000 since the start of 2011.
Amri says the ministry inflated this figure by 144,000 – and appears to have done so by continuing to count Saudi workers who were hired but have since died, retired, resigned or been dismissed.
This brings the total down to 580,000 extra jobs, but even that figure is too high because it includes "ghost" employees of the kind found in the private schools. Amri estimates that the number of "fake Saudisation" jobs in the period 2011-2013 could be as high as 429,000.
A reader's comment below the article says:
"This is just another avenue for abuse of the system. How many companies out there have Saudi employees on the books, and pay Saudis as employees, but the Saudis do not actually work? They sit at home collecting a salary for just having their names down as part of the Saudisation process. This is not Saudisation. This is just another fraud."
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Saturday, 8 February 2014