RIYADH – A number of farmers in Al-Kharj and Al-Dulum have stressed that Saudization of farm work is impossible due to Saudi youths’ aversion to work in this field, which they consider to be hard labor.The farmers, who are being forced by the Ministry of Labor to employ Saudis, said they have been unable to find a single Saudi national to replace expatriate workers in farms to harvest crops, tend to livestock and carry out other labor-intensive tasks, Al-Jazirah newspaper reported.
The farmers made the comments after the Ministry of Labor included the farming sector in the country’s nationalization program known as Nitaqat. Required by law to create more employment opportunities for citizens by employing a certain percentage of nationals, the farmers expressed discontent with the ministry’s decision. Many said they haven’t been able to renew residency permits (Iqamas) or obtain exit/re-entry visas for their expatriate farmhands. “This has affected productivity. Many farmers have resorted to employing illegal workers so their crops don’t die. There is a shortage of farmhands and our crops are at risk,” said one disgruntled farmer on condition of anonymity.
The Nitaqat program categorizes companies in four categories — Excellent, Green, Yellow and Red. Companies in the first two categories have met the required Saudization quotas and are offered perks including the ability to apply for work visas and renews their expatriate workers’ residency permits (Iqamas). Companies in the Red and Yellow categories failed to meet the required Saudization quotas and are slapped with various restrictions.
Farmer Badr Al-Abdullah said workers have started demanding better pay because they know there is a shortage of farmhands.“We have no choice but to give in to their demands. The new regulations have contributed to the employment of runaway and illegal workers.” said Al-Abdullah.Muhammad Abdulrahman, another farmer, said the Saudization of farms is not only difficult, but impossible as most Saudis seek white-collar jobs.
“We know society’s attitude toward work has changed but everyone wants an office job. There are some Saudis, who work in the management of farms. They recruit workers, who cultivate farms and harvest crops, but they themselves don’t do a single task.”Meanwhile, the Agricultural Committee in Al-Kharj Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the complaints filed by Al-Kharj and Al-Dulum farmers are being given the committee’s due attention.Farmers are not the only ones to speak out against the Nitaqat program. Earlier this month, investors in the transport sector said they would file a complaint with King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, over Labor Minister Adel Fakeih’s alleged refusal to meet them and listen to their complaints.
The investors claimed that the transportation sector had sustained huge losses due to Nitaqat requiring they hire Saudi drivers.“The Nitaqat program has undoubtedly had adverse effects on the sector due to the fact that there is a severe shortage of Saudi drivers.
We have taken out ads in newspapers to attract Saudis and contacted the Ministry of Labor to provide the sector with Saudi drivers but to no avail. Saudis are not interested in this dangerous job despite high salaries and incentives,” Fahd Al-Sharee, Vice-President of Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Eastern Province, was quoted as saying at the time.Al-Sharee alleged the ministry had repeatedly ignored investors’ requests to speak with Fakieh and said when 50 transport investors went to the ministry’s headquarters to meet the minister, they were turned away.
“The minister does not want to give transport companies visas to bring expatriate drivers into the Kingdom and does not want to procure drivers for the sector either,” said Al-Sharee.“It is hard to find drivers for heavy vehicles. Our company tried to attract Saudi drivers with lucrative offers and salaries as high as SR6,000 a month. But no one was interested. We hired three Saudis and they left the job three days later.” — SG