Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is embarking on a ‘Saudization’ programme, or nationalization of jobs, called Nitaqat. Its goal is to provide more than one million new jobs to Saudi citizens by limiting the number of foreign workers that companies can employ.

Under Nitaqat, a colour zoning scheme is implemented to determine if companies are hiring local workers. A green category is given to a company that has at least 10 percent of its workforce coming from the local population, yellow is handed out if Saudi workers comprise less than 10 percent of the company’s personnel, while firms are given a red if they don’t employ a single Saudi worker.

‘Yellow’ companies are given nine months, and ‘Reds’ six months to comply with the Saudization goals, or else they will be sanctioned by the government. ‘Red’ companies are also no longer allowed to renew their foreign workers’ visas.

‘Green’ companies, on the other hand, are prioritized in the processing of foreign workers’ visas and they are granted the privilege of being able to change the job categories of foreign workers into job categories usually reserved for Saudis.

Nitaqat’s second phase, which starts on September 10, will involve the imposition of quotas for different sectors of the economy. For example, banks must have a Saudization level of 49 percent according to the Labour Ministry. The media sector must have a 19 percent Saudization quota, which is also applicable to other commercial establishments, insurance companies and public schools.

Saudization is intended to curb the country’s rising unemployment, which now stands at about 10 percent. But the figure could be higher for women who are faced with fewer job opportunities. Another aim of Saudization is to guarantee the employment of more than 100,000 Saudi students who have been given scholarship grants by the government to study in other countries and are expected to return soon to the Kingdom.

The Saudi government is entitled to think it’s promoting the welfare of its citizens by minimizing the number of foreign workers. It also can’t be blamed for trying to protect the jobs of Saudis – it’s only doing what any government threatened by growing unemployment and dissatisfaction in society is expected to do.

Unfortunately, Saudization hurts migrant workers, especially the low skilled workers, who have been working in the Kingdom for many years already. They could lose their jobs at any time, and it’s now more difficult than ever to apply for a new job in the Kingdom since Saudis are given preferential treatment. Their only options now are to leave Saudi Arabia, migrate to another rich country, or return to their home countries and hope that the situation there has improved.

Saudization is scaring a lot of people in the Philippines and Indonesia – two countries in Southeast Asia that send thousands of workers to Saudi Arabia every year. There are 1.8 million Filipinos living and working there, about 300,000 of whom are expected to be affected by the Saudization programme, according to a migrant advocacy centre. Indeed, it was reported last week that the number of working visas issued to Filipinos by the Saudi government has already been reduced from 1,800 daily down to only 700.

Most Filipinos and Indonesians working in Saudi Arabia are domestic helpers, but the Saudi government recently imposed a ban against the hiring of domestic helpers from the two countries. The issue is a bit more complicated in the case of Indonesia, since it was Indonesia that first banned the sending of maids to Saudi Arabia after an Indonesian maid who was convicted of killing her employer was beheaded by the Saudi authorities last month. Indonesia said that it won’t deploy new maids to the Kingdom unless a new agreement is signed that would protect the rights of migrant workers.

Saudization should embolden migrant sending countries like the Philippines and Indonesia to prepare for the economic and social re-integration of laid-off workers from Saudi Arabia. It should force them to rethink the policy of sending people abroad instead of focusing on the development of their local economies. Saudization isn’t at fault here; rather it’s the utter failure of countries like the Philippines and Indonesia to provide their citizens with adequate job and livelihood opportunities at home.

Instead of asking why Saudis are now being prioritized by Saudi firms, we should question why Filipinos, Indonesians, and other migrant workers from poor countries are forced to leave their families and communities in search of a better life.

Written for The Diplomat

Female President for Singapore?

The recent victory of Yingluck Shinawatra, who will become Thailand’s first female prime minister, has inspired some Singaporeans to ask whether it’s also time for the prosperous city state to elect its first female president. Singapore is set to choose its new president, a largely ceremonial position, next month.

There were prominent female candidates who performed well during Singapore’s general elections last May, and many voters today seem ready to ignore the gender issue and instead focus more on the leadership qualities and platform of individual candidates.

The success of the opposition in grabbing more seats in parliament this year reflected the aspiration of many citizens for governance reforms. With this in mind, maybe the selection of a female president is just the sign of change that Singapore needs today.

But electing a female president isn’t that easy as choosing a female member of parliament. After reviewing the minimum qualifications that a candidate must pass, it seems there will be some difficulty in finding eligible female nominees.

According to the elections department, a person can run for president if he or she is at least 45 years-old; a resident in Singapore for a total period of not less than 10 years; is not a member of any political party; and has held office for a period of not less than three years in a position of seniority and responsibility in the public or private sector as described below –

1. As Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General or Permanent Secretary;

2. As chairman or chief executive officer of a statutory board to which Article 22A of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore applies;

3. As chairman of the board of directors or chief executive officer of a company incorporated or registered under the Companies Act (Cap. 50) with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million or its equivalent in foreign currency;

4. Or in any other similar or comparable position of seniority and responsibility in any other organization or department of equivalent size or complexity in the public or private sector which, in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee, has given him such experience and ability in administering and managing financial affairs as to enable him to carry out effectively the functions and duties of the office of President.

Women will have less of a chance of becoming president in Singapore today as long these criteria are enforced. It isn’t because there’s a dearth of women, but mainly because of the alarmingly low number of women in managerial positions in Singapore.

According to Grace Ke of the Association of Women for Action and Research, Singapore has had only one female minister in its history, and has never had a female chief justice, speaker, attorney general, Public Service Commission chairman or auditor general.

She added that only 12 of the 64 statutory boards in Singapore are currently headed by women, and cited a 2011 study that reveals that only 6.8 percent of board members for publicly-listed companies in Singapore are women. The study also showed that:

‘A whopping 61.9 per cent of all Singapore Exchange-listed companies in Singapore do not have a female director. Only 31.7 per cent have 1 female director. A measly 4.5 per cent have 2 female directors and less than 1 per cent has more than 3 female directors on their boards. Only 4 companies on the SGX Top 100 list have 3 or more female directors.’

Singapore may be ready to elect a female president, but there are legal obstacles that could make it difficult for women to run for the position. Maybe it’s time to revisit these election laws (which were drafted by men) and more importantly, promote more representation of women at all levels of government.

Written for The Diplomat

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