Despite Saudization law, expats dominate mobile phone sector


Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Expatriate workers still dominate the mobile phone sales and maintenance jobs across the Kingdom, a year after the Ministry of Labor and Social Development announced total Saudization of jobs in the sector.

However, thousands of expatriates who had been working in the sector have left the Kingdom for good.

Many Saudis entered the market with great hope after learning that cell phone sales and maintenance was highly profitable. However, many commercial centers in Jeddah such as the mobile phone market in Balad are still controlled by expatriates, making it tough for Saudis to compete with them.

Al-Madina newspaper toured major mobile phone markets in Sharafiya, Palestine Road, Hamdaniya, Northern Obhur, Prince Majed Road and East Jeddah and found many expatriate street vendors selling mobile phones and accessories.

Saudi shop owners said expat vendors were selling mobile phones and accessories at cheap rates, killing their businesses.

Rayan Atiyah, a shop owner, said a large number of expatriates still worked in the sector. “They sell smart phones at less than the normal prices. As a result of this illegal intervention, Saudi shop owners are losing business and profits,” he pointed out.

Atiya said mobile phone agents sold imitation accessories to Saudi shop owners at higher prices. “The Ministry of Labor and Social Development should keep a watch on such agents,” he added.

Dr. Salim Baujaja, head of the economic department in Taif University, said the Saudization of any sector should be carried out gradually for it to be effective and successful.

“This will enable Saudis to enter the market with force and without facing any obstacles. The Saudis’ lack of experience in maintenance work has given expats an opportunity to stay on in the business. We have to conduct intensive training courses to enable Saudis to provide maintenance services with confidence,” he explained.

Khaled Abalkhail, spokesman for the ministry, said all jobs in the mobile phone sector are restricted to Saudis. “We will carry out regular inspections to round up expats who continue in these jobs. We have already arrested a number of them for violating the Saudization regulations,” he added.

Meanwhile, the sales manager of a mobile phone company said shops owned by foreigners in the name of Saudis under the Tasattur arrangement were not ready to Saudize jobs. These shops are still run by expat workers, he added.

“These shops are open only at times when inspectors normally will not visit the market. They close shops at the time of inspections and reopen them after making sure that the officers have left the place,” the manager said.

Bandar Al-Omairy also noted a strong presence of foreign workers in the mobile phone sales and maintenance sector despite the total Saudization of the sector. “Expats are still dominating this vital sector. I cannot see many Saudis working in the mobile phone shops,” he added.

Saleh Al-Garni said the mobile phone market in Jeddah was operating normally without any significant role played by Saudis. “Expats are still controlling the market,” he said.

Al-Garni said many expat shop owners use the help of Saudis to escape labor inspectors. “Expats open their shops in the evening hours when inspections are rare,” he said.

“The ministry should send inspectors to side streets such as Younus Bin Abdulmalik in southeast Jeddah to see mobile phone shops run by expats. They came here after closing their shops in the main mobile phone markets,” he added.