Stock Jeddah skyline
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Image Credit: Shutterstock

The other night, at the incessant insistence of my daughter to replace my collection of tattered workout gear with new ones, I stopped at a shopping complex with quite a few shops that sold health and sports gear.

It was past ten in the evening, and we were lucky enough to find one Jeddah store still open. Once inside, my daughter proceeded to instruct me on all items that I had to replace including my well-worn athletic shoes.

By nature, I am very partial to old possessions and don’t find it particularly easy to discard them and move on comfortably to newer items. However, I was in a passive mood and decided to go along.

We found every item we were looking for with the exception of the right socks for the new shoes I had purchased. The salesman apologetically told me they were all sold out. When I inquired if there were other stores around that carried that brand, he mentioned two just down the street. But, he added, I’d have to come for them the following day, as those stores had closed at 10pm.

“And how come you’re still open then?” I asked. “You must be raking it with all these late-night customers, aren’t you? Being that you’re the only store yet open?”

‘It is not by choice sir,” replied the Somali cashier standing beside us. ‘We have to stay open until there are no more customers left. Our boss insists on that, even though we are not paid beyond our regular duty time.”

No overtime for staff

‘That could mean anytime until 3:00am in the morning the way this city operates during these months! Well then, so long as the owner pays you your overtime, I suppose it would be OK,” I added.

‘Aah sir, here is the problem. There is no overtime for the staff”, he responded dejectedly. The stock assistant standing nearby confirmed that with vigorous nodding of his head.

‘What? Do you mean to tell me that you could be possibly working late night after night and putting long hours during the entire summer months and there is no form of compensation that is due to you? Bull feathers! This is totally unacceptable!

Other stores here seem to maintain regular working hours, and now suddenly I feel guilty for keeping you guys way past your shift. Have you complained to your management about these long odd hours?”

“Sir, if we complain to management, we may all be replaced. You must have heard about the biscuit factory workers and their complaints, sir. Just exactly where did it get them? I have heard that most of them were fired and sent home without their dues. And all for demanding what was rightfully theirs, sir.”

“You may have a point here my friend. The Saudi government has strict laws in the books protecting the rights of workers, both Saudi and expatriate. Unscrupulous employers must not be allowed to operate on their own whims with total disregard for the law.

"And I shall not take it lying down. I will write about it and hopefully, some wise individual in the Ministry upon reading this and who deals with such issues may take note and work along the side of the faceless ranks of labour, thousands upon thousands of them, who have contributed to building this country, as we know it. For now, let me not hold you back from your families any further. Here is my money, and God be with you”, I added, hurriedly settling my account and leaving.

Public nuisance 

Apart from working hours abuse in the warmer months, another phenomenon seems to be on the rise. Last night, I was again distracted by the loud and disturbing sounds of several loudspeakers in the neighbourhood I live in.

It seems that as part of the upcoming festival season before Ramadan, tents had been erected just parallel to the seafront for some kind of shows and acts.

Now that would be all well if those organising this event had not installed loudspeakers all over the perimeter of these tents from the exterior, with sounds emanating in all directions. And this was at 1:30 in the morning, for goodness’ sake! Why couldn’t they just install these speakers inside the tents where the visitors were?

Didn’t the Saudi Ministry of Interior ban such disturbance some time back? And do we have any noise ordinance by-laws within the charter of our Municipality? If we do, who should enforce them? And if we don’t, isn’t it about time that we did?

Festivals are OK but one must take into account their proximity to residential districts, and not grant the organisers the freedom and authority to disregard rules and ethics.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena