By Elizabeth Broomhall
Thousands protest in fear of low wages, job insecurity if employed outside public sector
Thousands of healthcare graduates in Saudi Arabia gathered outside government offices this week in protest at state plans to employ some 14,000 doctors and nurses in private hospitals.
Crowds of young professionals lobbied outside the Ministry of Civil Service offices in Najran, Abha, Taif and Jeddah, and the Ministry of Health building in Riyadh, Arab News reported.
The graduates fear working in private clinics and hospitals where they believe salaries and benefits are poorer than those available to government sector employees.
“The average monthly salary [of a private sector job] does not exceed SR4,000,” Muhammad Al-Aseeri told the newspaper, adding he had not received a pay increase in two years.
“When we saw that there would not be any improvement in our condition, we decided to resign from the hospital,” he said.
Hamad Al-Shahry said that jobs in the private sector were less secure than those offered by government-run hospitals and clinics.
“We don’t have job security in the private sector,” he told reporters. “After three years of unemployment, we were surprised to hear the decision to send some of us to the private sector.”
Abdul Aziz Al-Khaneen, the spokesperson for Saudi’s Ministry of Civil Service, said the Ministry of Health would employ 4,000 healthcare graduates, with a further 4,000 absorbed by other state-run departments.
Private-sector facilities would take 6,000 graduates with the remaining to be spread across civil and military departments and private hospitals at a later date, he said.
Saudi Arabia, like neighbouring Gulf states, is seeking to increase the employment of nationals in the private sector as the government struggles to tackle rising levels of joblessness.
Unemployment among nationals officially stands at 10 percent, but the population is growing more quickly than the government can provide public sector jobs. Around half of Saudis in full-time employment work for the government, central bank data shows.
The Gulf’s wealthiest economy last year rolled out new laws aimed at forcing private sector firms to achieve a set quota of Saudi staff or face tough penalties including a ban on renewing visas for foreign workers.
The Gulf state said it wanted to create 1.12 million jobs for locals by 2014, and reduce the number of expatriate employees, which make up more than 95 percent of the SME workforce.
In December, it also announced plans to introduce an employment benefit of $530 (SR2,000) per month for more than 700,000 men and women in the country.
But analysts warn the moves are unlikely to have any significant impact on the labour force unless Saudi curbs jobs for nationals in the public sector and address the pay gap with the private sector.
“The main problem so far is high reservation wage in public sector, and consequently subdued appetite of Saudi nationals to work in the private sector,” said Kubilay Ozturk, an economist at Deutsche Bank.