JEDDAH – The Ministry of Labor has rejected the plea of a number of businessmen who sought exemption from hiring saleswomen for women accessories shops in central areas around the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
“No exceptions!” said Fahad Al-Tikaifi, the ministry’s assistant undersecretary for development.
“Women products are to be sold only by women even in shops in central areas (at the holy sites). We will start closing down the violating shops in the coming few days,” he asserted. Al-Tikaifi said that they had issued warnings to shop owners in Ramadan.
Businessmen claim that the shops in the vicinity of the Two Holy Mosques require sales people who can work long hours, are experienced enough to deal with various nationalities, and can manage to tackle huge rush on the streets while commuting from home to the shop.
“We find it difficult to reach our shops because of the huge crowd in the central area around the Grand Mosque, especially during Haj and peak Umrah seasons. How can these women manage the swarm of people everyday?,” asked Abdul Rahmad Kamal, a shop owner in Makkah.
Kamal said that he employed women in his shops in Jeddah, Taif and Makkah, but suffered a 60 percent loss in business, because the saleswomen lacked experience.
The Ministry of Labor did not give us enough time to let these women be trained by experienced salesmen, he claimed. Kamal said that the high rents in central areas around the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah as well as odd shopping timing force them to keep their shops open around the clock.
“I reach my shop right after the Fajr (dawn) prayer. How can I find a saleswoman who is ready to be in the shop at that time?” he said.
Kamal said that he used to employ salesmen for SR3,000 a month who were willing to work around the clock during peak times. This, he said, is not the case with women, who want less working hours but more benefits.
“Here in the central area each minute counts. We want the Ministry of Labor to implement its regulations, but we do not want to lose either,” he added.
The case in Madinah is the same.
According to Abdu Bakar, a salesman, it is impossible to find an experienced saleswoman who is willing to work long hours.
“Many men working here in the central area have inherited the art of selling for pilgrims from their ancestors. Many of them speak different languages. It will take years for women to match our experience and reach the level of professionalism which we have,” he said.
The ministry’s deadline for women accessories shops to hire Saudi women ended on July 7. It is complementary to the first stage of feminizing lingerie shops, and its implementation is compulsory as it is considered to be a national program aimed at employing as many Saudi women as possible.