Friday, March 16, 2018

Wheeling and dealing

From the March 17, 2018 Saudi Gazette. You can link to the story here, and the text is below.

Female driving instructors complain of contract abuse

Saudi Gazette report

WOMEN campuses in Saudi Arabia plunged into a serious competition to become the first to give driving lessons to their female students and staff, no sooner than the royal decree overturning the ban on women driving was announced.

Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) was in the forefront of this competition announcing the first driving academy for women in the country. Within just three days of the royal announcement, the university said on Twitter that it was ready to establish a driving academy for women in cooperation with the relevant authorities. Other universities followed suit saying that they too would establish schools to teach women the basics of driving.

Driving schools are expected to be in effect soon although the Traffic Department has not yet shared the exact dates or the requirements for driving schools around the country. Carmaker Ford Motor started a hands-on driving. At Effat University in Jeddah, some 250 female students participated in a three-day Driving Skills for Life Program, a global initiative Ford introduced in the Kingdom for women for the first time.

In early January, Noura University announced that it started accepting driving instructor applications. Women from all parts of Saudi Arabia go to Noura, the world's largest women-only campus, to pursue higher education. As such, it is undoubtedly the natural venue to launch the first driving academy to give practical training to women drivers.

The university said the applicants to the post of driving instructor must have a valid driver's license and a certified trainer permit, and they must be either Saudi or a resident living in the country.

As the university is set to start the driving academy, a group of instructors it had hired complained to Al-Hayat newspaper about the lack of clarity and transparency in their employment contracts.

They pointed out that what was presented to them was a job offer at the beginning of their training period. There was a clause that stipulated a SR7,000 penalty if the trainer resigned before the end of the two-year contract, they said.

The trainers said their salaries were much lower than their expectations. They said the university had announced an attractive pay package through its official Twitter account for the successful candidates. To their surprise, the salary offered to them on hiring was just SR4,000 with an additional 10 percent for transportation and 20 percent in housing allowance, which is very law considering the current economic changes and the high cost of living.

One of the applicants complained of the injustice during the evaluation of the admission test, noting that the time allowed for the test was just two minutes and it was held at a very narrow place.

She tried to retake the test but her request was rejected, she said while indicating that she possessed a driver's license from the United States.

"We have been contacted by e-mail giving us appointment for an interview, and then the supervisor told us everyone of us was accepted. But I was surprised when my name was not included in the training schedule. When I asked the supervisor, she said there was a new list and I was excluded. When I inquired about the reasons, she said she couldn't divulge it," the applicant said.

Another trainer coming from the Eastern Province said she was excited to land the job but soon became demotivated due to the work conditions.

"The salary is not attractive, nor the work environment. I was accepted in a job in the area where I lived for twice the salary I am offered now, but my dream was to earn the title of the first woman driving trainer in the country," she said.

She said one of her colleagues was expelled from the academy's office in an unprofessional manner because she demanded a reasonable salary. "My colleague expected to receive up to SR8,000 a month, but the employee made fun of her saying 'you are not a good fit for us'," she added.

Lawyer Abdulkarim Al-Qadi told Al-Hayat that a period of probation should be specified in any employment contract. He said such a period should not exceed 90 days according to Article 53 of the Saudi Labor Law. Either party may terminate the contract during the probation period without any liabilities toward the other, he added.

In its latest move in string of social and economic reforms, Saudi Arabia announced on Sept. 26, 2018, that it would lift an informal ban on women driving that existed in the country. A royal decree issued by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman said women would be allowed to drive in the Kingdom by June 2018, setting in motion a chain of activities and mechanisms for preparing the groundwork before the radical shift in the way women in the country conducted their affairs took effect.

For decades, the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia has been the center of extensive debates not only in social circles within the country but in foreign media as well. The royal decree referred to the negative repercussions of not allowing Saudi females to drive as well as the positive effects of lifting the ban would have on the freedom of mobility for women within the limits set by Islamic law.

In any case the authorities had asserted time and again that the prohibition on women driving in the Kingdom was a social matter, as there was no actual law or religious edict banning it.

However, many Saudi women are already skilled drivers with a large number of them driving own vehicles while staying abroad for education or other purposes. Moreover, Bedouin women in rural areas of Saudi Arabia drove cars and even trucks especially for movement of goods within large farms. However, they rarely ventured on to public roads in their vehicles.

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