Thursday, August 7, 2014

Facing Bumps on the Road

Excellent article by Sabria Jawhar on the reality of working Saudi women and transportation. You can link to the story in the August 7, 2014 Arab News here,  and the article is pasted in below.

One of the hard lessons Saudi women learn when they get a new job in the private sector is the attitude among employers. They are told: “you got a job, the rest is up to you.”

More plainly put, female employees are required to show up at work on time and leave at the appropriate hour at the end of the workday. If you must do work-related errands during business hours, then find your own transportation.

Educated women from well-to-do families and working at high-level jobs can live with these requirements. They have their own drivers. But for the rest of us, those middle-class women who can’t afford to sponsor a full-time driver or don’t have access to a full-time driving service, it’s almost impossible to reliably arrive to work on time and leave at a reasonable hour at the end of the day.

There are many private employers — and I have run into plenty — that may offer company drivers to female employees only to pull the rug from underneath them when the time comes to actually drive women around.

A common method among some employers is to insist that the female worker and the driver work out a schedule between themselves. Yet many drivers loathe the idea of driving women from their homes to work, and then pick them up at the end of the day. Worse, they often become unavailable during working hours. Their attitude is they drive female employees to and from work at their convenience and not the workers.

It’s never a matter of “I won’t drive you” but rather simply not answering the phone or claiming a scheduling conflict. Employers prefer not to get involved, so the transportation issues disintegrates into a cat-and-mouse game where women workers are reduced to using a male colleague’s mobile phone so her so-called driver will pick up the phone, or catch him napping in an empty office somewhere in the building and making an awkward face-to-face demand. This daily exercise becomes so exhausting that the idea of hailing a smelly cab from a street corner is easier.
(Full disclosure: My employer contracts a private limousine company to take me anywhere I want to go. I no longer endure the indignity of begging drivers for transportation.)

The attitude of drivers in Saudi Arabia has changed dramatically in the past decade. Drivers, who were once prompt, courteous and respectful to female passengers has evolved an attitude that shows they are doing women a favor by simply allowing them in the back seat of their car.

The Ministry of Labor has a pretty good handle on the dilemma faced by female workers. No one realistically believes that Saudi women will receive the right to drive a car in the near future. At the same time more women are entering the workforce only to find that lack of transportation is not only hindering their work performance, but also encouraging them to stay at home rather than find employment. This will eventually have a significant impact on the Kingdom’s economy.

To solve the problem, the Labor Ministry now requires employers to provide transportation to Saudi women workers. Al-Sayyda Khadija Bint Khuwailid Center, which is part of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), conducted a study that found that 48 percent of Saudi women workers employ private drivers while 26 percent use the men in their families to drive them to work. Only12 percent use taxis and just 4 percent of the women use private minibuses owned by their employers.

So about half of the female workforce is without reliable transportation since using a dad or brother to act, as a chauffeur is hardly considered reliable.

The Labor Ministry has managed to do a lot to get employers in line since its crackdown on undocumented workers last year. It has successfully integrated retail shops with women workers and continues to find ways to make it easier for Saudi women to get hired in the private sector.

Their program to require employers to provide transportation is a logical step to keep women in the workplace. Enforcement, however, remains a sticking point if employers continue to take a passive attitude by not requiring their drivers to be available. Still, the Labor Ministry over the past year has been consistent in its directives, and women just might see a positive change in how their employers handle their transportation issues.

Sabria's e-mail: