By Elizabeth Broomhall
Conservative kingdom is pushing for female only staff in outlets
Some 600 lingerie shops in Saudi Arabia have been closed for not adhering to new government rules which ban stores from employing male sales assistants, the Saudi Gazette has reported.
Other outlets flouting the laws face penal action, including fines, the newspaper reported.
Around 30 shops have also been warned to hire female workers within the next two weeks, or else be shut down.
The Ministry of Labour has ordered that closed-outlets cannot re-open until they replace all their male workers with females.
The government is taking a tough stance on business owners in a bid to enforce the ruling, which was introduced in July last year after a first attempt to roll out the initiative in 2006 failed.
According to the law, all Saudi-based lingerie stores must now only employ females as sales assistants, while owners of women’s cosmetics and accessories shops have until June 27 to phase out their male staff.
The ministry also requires that shops ban men from entering and provide security guards on the door, while female workers must wear a hijab and clothes that conform with the country's conservative standards.
Ministers said in November that hundreds of inspectors would be employed across the Kingdom from January this year in a bid to push male lingerie salesmen aside.
This month, the ministry also suspended visas for foreign salesmen at all lingerie and cosmetics shops in the hopes of putting further pressure on shop owners.
Muhammad Al-Shehri, chairman of the textiles and readymade clothes committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), said since the ruling was issued, 90 percent of women’s accessory shops in Jeddah have complied with the decision and hired around 1,500 female workers.
However, approximately 10 percent of stores located in traditional and old markets have not obeyed the laws because women have shown no interest in working there, Al-Shehri said.
Following the decision to reserve jobs in lingerie shops for women, underwear sales have increased in the city by 30 percent, he said.
Labour officials previously stated that the ministry is also considering proposals to apply the female-only rules to perfume shops and other female-related commercial activities.