Jeddah: Expat engineers working at construction firms claimed their employers plan to lay off foreigners and replace them with Saudis to fulfill the requirements of the Nitaqat program, which aims to improve employment opportunities for Saudis. The companies are only required to ensure 7 percent of their staff are Saudi to avoid disrupting important projects.
There is a need to reduce the number of foreign workers and replace them with national cadres, but the construction companies need to ensure work on projects remains stable and laying off foreign workers on some of these contracts can lead to unnecessary delays.
“Administrative positions in construction companies are suitable for Saudis. However, expatriates are better qualified to work in technical positions due to their experience in this area. At the same time, the Labor Office does not force construction companies to hire a high number of Saudis, both in administrative or technical positions,” Salah Aiyed, a construction company owner told Arab News.
Nader Abdul Atti, an Egyptian engineer who works on construction projects in Riyadh, said: “My company intends to lay off five technicians and two engineers to meet its 7 percent Saudization quota as set by the Labor Ministry. However, there are already large numbers of Saudis working in the administrative and financial departments of the company.”
Abdullah Bakr Radwan, a member in the contractors committee at the Jeddah Chamber for Commerce and Industry (JCCI), confirmed that according to a decision of the Council of Ministers the Saudization target for construction companies is 7 percent. He also unveiled an initiative to reform the industry so that it provides more jobs to locals.
“This scheme helps young Saudis to open small enterprises to carry out restoration and maintenance work. This initiative will create many jobs for Saudis. We will coordinate with several parties to secure funding for the scheme and provide substantial support to help Saudis work in technical jobs in the construction field,” he told Arab News.
Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers left the Kingdom during the amnesty period in 2013 resulting in the suspension of construction activity in several projects. Industry reports have said that about 36 percent of construction projects had been delayed by labor crises following the crackdown on illegal workers.
However, 18 recruitment companies will supply workers to construction companies and to other firms facing shortage of labor. This move will provide some relief to the construction industry struggling with labor shortages while it waits to fill vacancies caused by the exit of expatriate workers.