By Beatrice Thomas
Court heard claims shops in Jeddah suffered 60% loss in business because of badly trained female employees
Saudi authorities have rejected pleas from businessmen seeking an exemption from its policy of hiring female workers and have vowed to close down shops which disobeyed the directive.
The Saudi Gazette newspaper reported that a number of businessmen sought the exemption from hiring saleswomen for female accessories shops in central areas around the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
They claimed the shops in the vicinity of the two mosques required sales people who could work long hours, were experienced enough to deal with various nationalities, and could manage to tackle rush-hour while commuting to and from work.
“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,” Abdul Rahmad Kamal, a shop owner in Makkah, was quoted as saying.
“How can these women manage the swarm of people every day?”
He added 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 also did not give business owners enough time to train the female staff while high rents and odd shops times forced them to keep their shops open around the clock, he claimed.
“I reach my shop right after the Fajr (dawn) prayer,” he said.
“How can I find a saleswoman who is ready to be in the shop at that time?”
However, Ministry of Labor assistant undersecretary for development, Fahad Al-Tikaifi, rejected the no saleswomen plea, saying there were “no exceptions”.
“Women products are to be sold only by women even in shops in central areas (at the holy sites),” he said.
“We will start closing down the violating shops in the coming few days.”
Al Tikaifi said that they had issued warnings to shop owners during Ramadan.
The newspaper quoted Abdu Bakar, a salesman, as saying it was impossible to find an experienced saleswoman who was willing to work long hours.
“Many men working here in the central area have inherited the art of selling to pilgrims from their ancestors,” he said.
“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.”
The ministry’s deadline for female accessories shops to hire Saudi women ended on July 7.
It follows a first stage program of “feminising” lingerie shops and is part of a national program aimed at employing as many Saudi women as possible.