Crisis looms in transport sector as companies unable to hire Saudis

There are few takers among Saudis for hundreds of vacant jobs of heavy duty drivers with Kingdom’s transport companies due to the difficult nature of the job. (AN files)

Published: Dec 3, 2011 01:47 Updated: Dec 3, 2011 01:47

DAMMAM: A large number of companies in the transport sector say they are facing the prospect of either winding down or incurring huge losses as they struggle to adhere to the Nitaqat program.
About 90 percent of companies in this vital sector are listed in the red category, meaning they are far below their Saudization targets. The Labor Ministry had given these companies Nov. 26 as the deadline to comply with the regulation or face penal action.
Several investors in the road transport sector said Saudis were reluctant to take up jobs in the field, especially to work as heavy vehicle drivers because the job is considered tough and hard, Al-Eqtisadiah business daily said in a recent report.
Fahd Al-Shuraie, chairman of the land transportation committee at the Asharqia Chamber, said the ministry’s insistence on implementing Nitaqat in the transport sector would result in most companies failing to meet their targets.
“This may force many companies to halt their operations. Transport companies are struggling to hire Saudi drivers to adhere to the Nitaqat program,” he said. “We did not receive any positive response from citizens. We placed advertisements seeking Saudi drivers in various media. Moreover, we contacted labor offices across the Kingdom in search of qualified Saudi hands but with no luck,” Al-Shuraie said while pointing out that there was a lukewarm response even after promising a salary of about SR5,000 for Saudi drivers.
Al-Shuraie admitted that some companies tried to bypass the Nitaqat program by employing people with special needs, as hiring one disabled person is equal to four able-bodied Saudi workers.
“Moreover, the Nitaqat program not only stops issuing recruitment visas for companies in the red category but also allows companies in the green band (meeting Saudization targets) to hire workers without permission from those not meeting Saudization targets,” he said, describing this as another obstacle.
Al-Shuraie said an overwhelming majority of companies in this sector would be forced to wind down their business.
He pointed out that transport companies have an adequate number of Saudi employees in ministerial positions such as administration, service and finance.
“However, these companies lack the required number of Saudis to work as drivers. Some of these companies have around 2,000 trucks and other vehicles. Under Nitaqat, they need to employ at least 250 Saudi drivers but they are struggling to find locals to take up these jobs,” he said.
Al-Shuraie urged the ministry to revise its Nitaqat policy for the land transportation sector by reducing the Saudization quota, as was the case with the contracting sector.
He also pointed out that a large number of transport companies had signed contracts to operate freight services for crucial government departments and companies such as the Ministry of Defense, Saudi Aramco and SABIC.
Al-Shuraie noted that some transport companies in the red category also faced a potential situation where a large number of employees would seek to be hired by companies in the green band.
Saeed Ali Al-Bassami, deputy chairman of the transportation committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it is very difficult to find Saudis to work as heavy drivers. “Finding workers to operate heavy vehicles is quite difficult compared to other sectors. This is mainly because of the tough nature of the job. Therefore, Saudi drivers are very rare in this sector,” he said.
Al-Bassami recalled that some investors in the transportation field had a meeting with Labor Minister Adel Fakeih in Makkah earlier.
“During that meeting, we urged the minister to review the decision to implement Nitaqat in this sector considering the reluctance of Saudis to take the jobs. I drew the minister’s attention to a proposal urging the ministry to implement a program in cooperation with technical institutes aimed at training Saudis to work as truck drivers. I also told him transport companies are ready to employ such drivers by giving them attractive salaries and allowances.”
According to Al-Bassami, the transport sector faces several other handicaps such as drivers leaving to join companies undertaking big projects. “Nearly 90 percent of transport companies are listed in the red category. More than 700 trucks from some companies are on standby due to nonavailability of drivers,” he said.

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