JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – On February 10, 2005, the Saudi government ordered 700 local limousine contractors to lay off thousands of foreign chauffeurs. This was good news for local operators, who would no longer be competing with foreign drivers, but not good news for many Pakistani drivers, who would be jobless. Some sources say there was a shortage of experienced Saudi drivers and that businesses would have to close because of the lack of drivers. Others were hopeful that, by sending foreigners packing, more jobs would be created for Saudis. But, whatever the outcome would have been, the order was short-lived.
Labor Minister Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi announced a three-year postponement of nationalization of the limousine business because there weren’t enough interested Saudis to Saudize.
The postponement came as a surprise to many Saudis who were optimistic that if the decision was enforced, many jobs would be created for them. The reaction among Saudis was mixed: Some felt this postponement will not serve Saudis who are ready and able to do the job. Others were relieved that foreign drivers will still be able to support their families back home and that there will be enough drivers for those that need them.
One driver suggested that this may not be the right time to fully Saudize the industry because there are not yet enough Saudi drivers in the market.
Other issues are raised by the decision. Many Saudi drivers want to see their economy improve by keeping the money at home. Foreign drivers transfer money away from Saudi Arabia, which they feel is damaging.
Interestingly, many women passengers prefer the foreign drivers, who they say are more respectful towards women. Some women passengers have allegedly experienced harassment from Saudi drivers, who are not held accountable for their actions. Foreign drivers, they say, are more trustworthy and more accountable. If a complaint is registered, Saudis are more likely to persecute a foreign driver than a Saudi driver, the women say.
Saudi drivers counter these stories by explaining that, as family men, they have responsibilities to meet and will not risk offending a passenger. In any case, Saudis would agree that more professionalism would lead to fewer problems.
Both sides have important views, and there likely will be many bumps along the road to Saudization. Unless thousands of Saudis turn up who want driving jobs, the road will not smooth out anytime soon.