‘This Saudi employee is absent from work’


THE above headline is not derived from my opinion, but it is related to an incident that took place at a sportswear shop last week. This incident sparked a heated debate in social media and instigated a campaign against expat workers in managerial positions. What triggered this sea of words? It all started with a sign that was pasted on a desk that said, “This Saudi cashier is absent from work”. This sparked great anger and people called on the company to hold this expat manager accountable and accused him of racism. In the meantime, the sportswear shop issued a statement saying that this was an isolated incident and promised to investigate the incident to the full and to apply severe punishment.

I agree with the company’s statement that this incident is isolated and the work of one person and does not represent the other expat workers in key managerial positions. This incident can be easily described as a racist one, by generalizing and accusing the nationality of the employee, as if all the people from the same nationality are careless about work — if that person is in reality proved to be careless in the first place. We are all against generalizing and applying collective punishment because of the mistake of one or a minority. A person who generalizes is ignorant and also part of the problem.

The manager at that sportswear shop has committed a number of violations that even managers at an entry level would not commit. If there was an issue between the employee and his manager, like not achieving targets, misbehavior inside the shop, or in this case absent from work, then this can be easily done within the company through an internal memo or through a private company investigation. To slander an employee like this and to identify his nationality, in the country of which the employee is a national, is suicidal.

I do not know in what state of mind this manager was when he decided to do this and then carry out this decision brazenly? Was he expecting support from his customers or from the government departments in Saudi Arabia? Why did he do, what he did, when he knows very well that the Saudization drive is in full swing? I know that this behavior will not be tolerated in any country, especially if it was by an expat manager. This was clearly a violation of the company’s law.

In any shop or company, employees do not tend to expose each other in front of a client or customer. Like in this case, let’s assume that this employee was negligent and absent. Then the right thing to do is for the manager to fill his position with another employee or distribute work in such a way that service is not affected and the customers do not notice that there is a problem, and run things normally while focusing on one target, making money while serving the customers with a smile. But here the manager did not do the expected but also went on to malign an employee in front of customers. Then what kind of an image they are presenting about themselves in front of consumers? This is just similar to two employees shouting at each other in the workplace, creating a scene and disrupting work.

Let us assume here that the manager was fed up with the continuous absence of the employee, then in these circumstances, there are procedures that document this negligence and this could lead to the firing of the negligent employee. After receiving four official warnings, the employee’s contract can be terminated. The manner in which this incident was handled backfired on the manager himself. This was perceived as a personal grudge between the said manager toward the employee, as many people saw it, and adding the nationality to the sign made it even worse.

I was reviewing the comments on this incident and as usual, the voices of hate against expat workers was high and people called to deport them all, using this incident as an excuse. Again, as I said earlier, that generalizing anything is the work of an ignorant and these voices were generalizing. There were very few rational voices that called to treat this incident as an isolated one.

To the haters I say that there are many expat workers who are victimized at jobs in the private sector and not receiving salaries for many months and sometimes overworked with less or no pay at all. To those who generalize by saying that Saudis are always absent from work or lazy, I say, that this is not true as we see more Saudis these days taking working every job and taking responsibility. The mentality is changing fast and youth are now starting from little jobs and working their way up, unlike before. They are now working in food trucks and as cashiers in major shops. This incident is isolated and no one should use it to propagate his or her agendas.

— The writer can be reached at mahmad@saudigazette.com.sa Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng