The Saudi Labour Minister has accused the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) of violating an agreement on the feminisation of lingerie and accessory shops by forcing employers to implement strict rules that do not exist, according to local media.
The Saudi government recently allowed women to work in lingerie shops on the condition they are Saudi citizens, no males are also employed and a security guard is hired.
The agreement was a delicate balancing act with the conservative Haia, which does not support women working, and King Abdullah’s willingness to open up opportunities for women.
However, Labour Minister Adel Fakeih has reportedly complained to Haia President Sheikh Abdul Latif Al Asheikh that the commission is attempting to override the government by dictating conditions that do not exist in the agreement.
Several employers had complained of Haia members blocking female customers from brining their male guardians into the lingerie stores and demanding opaque partitions between female sections and other areas so outsiders cannot see female customers and workers, he said.
They also had requested stores be fully blocked from public view and special sections segregated for women’s accessories at department stores.
Haia members had threatened shop owners they would be jailed and their business closed if they did not agree to the conditions.
While the ministry’s conditions do not include jail, incompliant businesses faced being categorised in the red zone of the kingdom’s Nitaqat nationalisation program, which has stiff penalties in relation to employment rights, or being temporarily or permanently shut down, according to local newspapers.
The Haia has not publicly responded.