The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Haircut, Sir? 

The campaign to Saudi-ize the Travel Agency industry is getting nowhere.


Saudization is a very laudable objective. It aims to reduce our dependence on foreign workers, by getting Saudis to do the job themselves. The problem is, it keeps on failing. Travel Agency is the latest example.

We hope to provide trained Saudis who can fit into work in the tour and travel industry and enable the companies to achieve at least 45 percent of Saudization during the first year, Sharif Elabdelwahab, NSJT general secretary, told The Saudi Gazette.
Forty-five percent Saudization is far lower than the latest revised target set for the sector.
That revision was done in mid-2004 after the Saudization Committee began cracking down on expatriates working in travel agencies when a Muharram 1, 1425 (February 21, 2004) deadline for them to achieve 100 percent Saudization of front-desk jobs passed with expatriates still occupying some 90 percent of the jobs.

There are two main reasons why it fails:

So when it's time to recruit someone else, who do the immediate Management (themselves Sri Lankan, or Egyptian, or Sudani) go for? Someone whom the customers will try and avoid like the plague? Or a known quantity from back home, properly trained, a good team worker, with good customer skills? It's a no-brainer, of course.

I'm very much in support of Saudization in the long-term interests of the country, but the only way it will work will be to set and enforce continually declining quotas of foreign workers, for our young men to bear the pain of those menial jobs, and for the rest of us to bear the pain of decades of abysmal customer service. At the moment the government effort is not 'joined up', one department sets arbitrary and unrealistic quotas while another allows in a continual stream of foreign recruits.

As the article goes on to say about the events of last year

The Saudization Committee's raids forced several travel agencies to down shutters and spare their foreign workers the embarrassment of being taken into custody despite holding valid Iqamas (job and residence permit). Those who got arrested from their workplaces were detained in deportation centers.

I love the bit about 'sparing their foreign workers the embarrassment'. It wasn't they who were embarrassed, it was the government, and in fact all of us. It was a complete and utterly abysmal shambles. It was Saudi Arabia at its worst. You see, when a Travel Agency failed to meet its 100% Saudi quota by the deadline, they didn't prosecute the Saudi businessman owners, the ones who were ultimately responsible. No sir, it was a case of 'spare the guilty and punish the innocent'. They arrested the Third World staff instead.

No Letup in Raids Against Travel Agents in Riyadh

RIYADH, 15 March 2004 — Raids and sweeping arrests of expatriate travel agents continued until last night, defying hopes of a grace period for Saudization of the travel industry

Expatriates, you note. Not the Saudi owners, some of whom were and are multi-millionaire busessmen. But there's more. What's this?

No more heads have been forcibly shaved, according to recently released travel agents.

Just imagine it. You're Gunasekara from Sri Lanka, working at your desk in the Travel Agency. You've heard all this stuff about Saudization, but your boss told you not to worry, there'll be a postponement, there always is. Turn up for work as usual. Then the cops burst in. Along with everyone else, you're bundled into a bus, and taken to prison. Your day just got worse....

Meanwhile Ali, one of the prison barbers, is having a lousy day. The good thing about his job is that he has a captive customer base. The bad thing is that his traffic depends on the cops bringing potential customers. And today it's very quiet, no money coming in. Mind you, he's not the sort of barber who will give you a magazine to read while he wraps hot towels round your face. He probably won't snip the little hairs in your ears and nostrils, or apply talcum powder to the back of your neck. He won't even ask, in that arch manner beloved of British barbers of old, whether "you need anything for the weekend?" - believe me, where you are, you won't be going anywhere for the weekend. However, he is a basic but thorough barber. You get used to the cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he leans over you. And he's really good at shaving heads.

Suddenly the gates are opened. Buses arrive. Hordes of 'darkies' pour in. Fresh meat, in copious quantities. It's like Eid came early. All at once, Ali's day just got a lot better...

But all detained workers complained barbers in the detention center used pressure tactics to persuade workers to allow their heads to be shaved — possibly to maximize their income. Some said that while head-shaving was not mandatory, many inmates were tense and anxious during detention and did not dare refuse or simply asked no questions of the barbers.

Not a 'quick trim', you'll notice, but the full works - the blunt razor tracing its rasping path over the contours of the skull. But difficult to refuse when

a few policemen behaved in an indecent manner when some inmates of the deportation center refused a shave.

Well, our cops are very fastidious, they can't stand their prisoners having a 'five-o'clock shadow'. Especially when they're feeling in an 'indecent' sort of mood. Sometimes, a shawarma is not enough satisfaction. Let's not go there.

So that was last year. However, the saga of Saudization and our Travel Agencies trundles on. Ali's business has never been as good again. Next time you're having your blow dry, spare a thought for Ali.

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