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Continuing with my journey of work and life……
In this post, I would like to focus on the professional working in the Kingdom.
The professional work landscape had continuously evolved in KSA. The growth in oil revenues was directly proportional to import of professional, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled expats.
I would like to highlight the following points.
- Income Opportunity. Saudi Arabia provided opportunity to a large number of expats to earn the kind of money they might not have been able to earn otherewise.There was discrimination though; merit was not the primary criteria. The people came from all over the world. Everyone got work. The highest paid jobs went to foreigners from USA and Europe. Then came Arabs and Arabic Speaking people. Egyptians had stronghold in education, Sudanese were fitted in accounts, Lebanese had edge in fashion and PR jobs and so on. Lower jobs went to poor countries. There is no denying the fact that lot of people made lot of money in gulf countries. The impact was huge and far reaching in their respective countries. The gulf money changed social fabric in countries like Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Philippines.
- Multicultural Environment. Like I also mentioned, the composition in every office and business was truly multicultural. While it was great learning, it was highly challenging also. The political rivalries between nations was amply projected in work life. Pakistanis generally were not a very popular lot. Their work quality was good, but they had ego issues. The rifts were deep and permanent. Most nationals tried to bring more people from their countries, Pakistanis not included. This factor certainly affected the overall work environment and performance.
- Forced Labor Conditions. Keeping passport was not allowed. Passports were kept by the employer while employees lived with Iqamas. No one could leave the Kingdom because the employer or kafeel would get the exit/entry stamp on the passport and then one could leave. It was a stamp which fixed the dates for exit and re-entry. There were no holidays, except the year end. There was no medical insurance. Saudis are not considered to be particularly polite with their workers. And lower cadre workers and labor worked in very difficult conditions.
- Professional Growth. There was little or no professional growth. You were hired for a position and you worked on that position as long as you worked. Career development and growth were rare. It is my earnest observation that such a work environment is harmful for young people. They have to learn and grow through various stages of career which could not be done in such places. Senior people could benefit better because they had already grown in profession and stature. Their primary motive might be earning more money and it was well-served.
- Saudi Arabia has much larger population as compared to all other Gulf countries. It was 28 million at that time. A newspaper report said that 35% Saudis lived below poverty line. It was huge in a country which had abundant revenues and resources. Of course, the unequal distribution of wealth was evident. The kingship was under pressure due to this and introduced Saudization which was a process to systematically reserve various cadres of jobs only for Saudi nationals. It was a rigorous and inexorable exercise which had been continuing over the years. Virtually, all managerial jobs were kept for Saudis. The employers did not resonate with this idea but had to follow.
- Cost of Living. The good thing about Saudi Arabia was that it had low inflation and low cost of living. This helped the foreign workers to save money while keeping a reasonable standard of living. There were no or little duties. Petrol was cheaper than water. Petrol was 0.90 Riyal per liter while half liter bottle of water cost 1.0 Riyal. Cars were cheap; old cars were dirt cheap. Chevrolet Caprice Classic was popular. All of these were old models which could be purchased at small price. Fuel cost was not a worry at all. Gas-guzzlers like Hummers were seen commonly. Foreigners drove the cars of their dreams which they would never be able to buy and drive in their home countries. Food items were very economical. Fruits came from all over the world. Such was the magic which kept people enticed. I understand some of these factors have changed now.
Finally, The Harmain Sharifain are the most important places on this earth and are located in Saudi Arabia. I pray that all of us get the opportunity to go to Makkah tul Mukarramah and Madinah tul Munawwarah, many times in our lives. Aameen.