Saudi women jostle for jobs as lingerie clerks

Some 28,000 women have applied to replace male sales clerks under gov’t overhaul
Saudi women jostle for jobs as lingerie clerks
The Saudi government has threatened in July to shut any lingerie shops still employing male clerks (image for illustration only)
By Staff writer
Sun 01 Jan 2012 12:17 PM

More than 28,000 Saudi women have come forward to take up
jobs as sales clerks in lingerie and accessory shops following a government
push to force stores to hire female staff, it was reported Sunday.

A senior official at the Ministry of Labour, told Arabic
daily Al-Eqtisadiah the women would replace male salesmen at 7,353 outlets
across the Gulf kingdom, as the government moves to increase retail roles for
women.

“In the past, it was very difficult for Saudi women to get job
opportunities at these shops dominated by foreigners,” said Fahd Al-Tukhaifi,
assistant undersecretary for development.

Riyadh has seen the highest number of applications from
Saudi women keen to secure sales roles, he added, with more than 5,600 putting
their names forward for a position.

Al-Tukhaifi said stores selling make-up, women’s clothing,
abayas and accessories should be careful to ensure any female recruits would
not come into contact with male employees.

“If any employer wants to hire Saudi saleswomen at an abaya
shop, then there should not be any salesmen working together with them at the
shop,” he told the business daily.

Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions interpreted from the
Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Men and women are strictly segregated in
public, a rule that has shuts women out of sales jobs in malls and stores -
unless the store caters exclusively to a female clientele.

The Gulf kingdom said in November it had hired hundreds of
inspectors to force stores to comply with a ruling that said only women could work
as clerks in lingerie and other stores.

The government in October issued a circular to stores
selling women’s fashion and lingerie warning they would be placed on a visa
blacklist if they failed to phase out their male staff.

Retailers have said the new regulations will increase their
overheads in an already difficult economic climate.  Not only must shops
bear the cost of training new staff, but must also employ a male security guard
for at least SR3,500 ($930) a month to keep men from entering the shop.

Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest Arab state, has lagged the UAE on the growth of shopping malls and retail
spending. Riyadh and Jeddah have retail space of 0.20 sq m per capita, less
than that seen in Bahrain, Qatar or the UAE, in part because of the market’s
unique cultural restrictions, Jones Lang LaSalle said last month.

The kingdom’s ban on cinemas has also curbed the shift of
malls into entertainment centres seen in other Gulf states, while cultural
restrictions have also cut female spending, a key retail market.

The consultancy warned new rules aimed at forcing private
sector firms to increase their quota of Saudi employees and reduce their foreign
workers could leave the retail sector short of staff.

Retail brands must funnel
investment into customer service training for employees as new quotas take
effect or risk a shortfall in qualified Saudi workers to staff stores, JLL
warned.

“Unless this becomes a serious consideration for major
stakeholders, there is a real danger of a shortage of qualified, national
candidates suitable for servicing future retail needs.”

For all the latest retail news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.