Saudi Arabia’s labor reforms seen as big boost for private sector

The Labor Reform Initiative is aimed at improving contractual relations between workers and employers. (Aramco)
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Updated 05 November 2020

Saudi Arabia’s labor reforms seen as big boost for private sector

  • New initiative aims to develop and improve the labor market environment and raise its competitiveness

JEDDAH/RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new labor reforms, announced Wednesday, will benefit foreign skilled workers in the Kingdom’s private sector while ensuring flexibility of movement say ministers.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) unveiled the Labor Reform Initiative (LRI) under the National Transformation Program (NTP), which will improve the contractual relationship between workers and employers in a drive to make the job market in Saudi Arabia more attractive.

Commenting on the initiative, which was a collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, MHRSD’s Minister Ahmed Sulaiman Al-Rajhi tweeted: “We have launched a Labor Reform Initiative, one of the initiatives of the National Transformation Program, through which we seek to develop and improve the labor market environment and raise its competitiveness to enable human resources in accordance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”

The initiative, which comes into effect on March 14, 2021, will help foreigners to acquire a residency status that is not tied to a specific employer or employment status, a key reform in the sponsorship system, bringing Saudi Arabia closer to labor market regulations in advanced economies.

Fadhel Saad Al-Buainain, a member of the Shoura Council and an economic expert, said the Kingdom seeks to improve the work environment for the private sector to meet the international standards. The Kingdom has implemented numerous initiatives to protect wages and improve the work environment, housing conditions and insurance.

“This initiative protects an employee’s dignity and freedom and guarantees for the employer compliance with the contract. The Saudi government is keen to reform the business sector and the labor market and to adhere to the requirements of the International Organization of Labor,” he told Arab News.

By allowing job mobility, regulating the issuing of exit and reentry visas and protecting the rights of both employee and employer, it will contribute to increasing the efficiency of the work environment.

Mohammad Sabbah, a business development specialist from Jordan residing in the Kingdom for 20 years and specializing in the Saudi market, described the initiative as a step in the right direction, noting that investment in Saudi Arabia is safe. It is vital for the employee-employer relationship to be flexible as such things can develop business overall, he said.

Saudi Arabia has introduced similar initiatives in the past to relax restrictions on the mobility of foreign workers and to protect the rights of the workforce, including the Wage Protection System, the digital documentation of work contracts, the Labor Education and Awareness Initiative, and the launch of “Wedy,” an arbitration process where labor ombudsmen and case officers are available to help employees and employers in a dispute.

Under the new initiative, employers will be required to document digitally employee contracts to reduce the disparity between Saudi workers and expatriates as more than 150,000 labor disputes have been filed in the past 3 years. The MHRSD aims to solve labor cases amicably through its settlement administration. The initiative will also help to regulate the unorganized labor force in the Kingdom, which is estimated to be in the millions.

The reforms will allow expatriate workers to transfer between employers after their contract expires, without the need for the employer’s consent. The initiative also outlines conditions applicable during the validity of the contract, provided a notice period of three months and specific measures are adhered to.

The exit and reentry visa reforms will allow expatriate workers to travel outside Saudi Arabia without their employer’s approval after submitting a request. The Final Exit Visa reforms allow foreign workers to leave Saudi Arabia after the end of their employment contract without the employer’s consent. The employer will, however, be notified electronically of their departure.

The LRI outlines that employees must bear all consequences, financial or otherwise, if they break the employment contract.

Tarek Al-Akil, the president of ACE Group, said the old sponsorship system did not meet the requirements of the employer-employee relationship. He said the new measures were bold and will assist Vision 2030’s aim to catapult the Kingdom forwards.

LRI services will be made available to the public through the smartphone app Absher, the MOI’s portal that enables residents of the Kingdom to benefit from e-services provided by the sectors of the ministry and the MHRSD’s Qiwa portal.

Saudi Arabia expects the new initiative to have positive economic effects, including developing the local market and the flexibility of work, increase the productivity within the private sector, attracting highly skilled talent, and ultimately contributing to achieving the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan through the National Transformation Program.

Saudi aerial photographer reveals secrets of AlUla Old Town to global audience

Updated 25 November 2020

Saudi aerial photographer reveals secrets of AlUla Old Town to global audience

  • Use of drones by cameraman brings history to life in one of KSA’s most famous archaeological sites

MAKKAH: A Saudi aerial photographer’s passion for history has won him global acclaim for images revealing the secrets of AlUla Old Town.

Ali Al-Suhaimi’s eye-in-the-sky portrayal of the famous Islamic city has helped to provide a fresh insight into the past lives of the inhabitants of the now deserted settlement.

AlUla Old Town, located in the north of the Kingdom about 20 km from the archaeological site of Mada’in Salih, is seven centuries old and filled with mosques and markets that reflect its beauty and heritage.

Rich in history, the region was an ancient trade station linking the north and south of the peninsula and one of the main stopping-off points for pilgrims traveling between Syria and Makkah.

Al-Suhaimi told Arab News that his inspiration to photograph the area from the air came from his deep-rooted desire to find out more about the country’s ancient civilizations.

“The idea from the onset revolved around simulating the history of AlUla region, which has become one of the most important heritage attractions on a local and international level.

“The location includes stone landmarks and high mountains which set a breathtaking rocky harmony depicted by the drones of aerial photographers.

“It was the place of people who set the link with us on architectural and human levels. 

The region is one of the great forgotten treasures of antiquity. (Social media)

They built a town which bears witness to the magnificence and cultural depth and momentum of its human legacy,” he said. Studies of AlUla’s castles have proved that the site was once a thriving community, Al-Suhaimi added. “Photographing these places in all their detail only adds to my enthusiasm for transmitting images to a world craving for the secrets of these places of old times to be unveiled.”

The high-flying lensman has snapped all of AlUla Old Town’s castles and villages, as well as the castle of Musa bin Nusayr, and the Aja and Salma mountains which rise to 1,000 meters.

By using drones, Al-Suhaimi has been able to get close-up pictures of the houses and buildings that occupy the site. “There are monolithic houses that reflect the depth of relationships that linked those people who fused with each other as if they were one family.”


AlUla Old Town, located in the north of the Kingdom about 20 km from the archaeological site of Mada’in Salih, is seven centuries old and filled with mosques and markets that reflect its beauty and heritage.

He pointed out that although the houses seemed to be randomly clustered together, they were actually “architectural enigmas” which had been cleverly designed to ensure a smooth flow of air in and around them.

Aerial photographs of the town had also raised questions about how its people had been able to move around from building to building in such a close-knit environment.

Al-Suhaimi said he had gained all the necessary licenses to operate drones in the area. “We were keen on taking pictures and transmitting them to the whole world, as internationally it is one of the most outstanding Islamic cities. Its mud houses are living witnesses that resisted time.”

He added that he had been astonished by the positive global feedback from his photographs of the region. One notable feature of AlUla Old Town is the Tantora sundial. The shadow that it cast was used to mark the beginning of the winter planting season.

“They set stones atop one another so that the shadow would be projected on the tip of the stone once per year, which is evidence of the astronomy legacy of the people of the region,” said Al-Suhaimi.