Caption: A labour inspector shutting down a shop in Dammam - Photo Courtesy: Sabq

Manama: Labour inspectors have shut down 27 lingerie shops in the Dammam Mall in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province for not employing local women.

New regulations in the Saudi kingdom stipulate that only Saudi women are allowed to work in shops selling women’s items and that failure to comply could mean shutting down the premises and taking action against the men working there.

The labour authorities had stopped granting permits to men to work in lingerie shops and have been conducting raids to ensure that there are no violations of the law.

“We need to monitor the shops closely to make sure that the workers are doing the jobs for which they were granted the permit,” Mohammad Al Faleh, the head of the labour office in the Eastern Province, said. “We will continue to do our job and reform the labour market in cooperation with the interior ministry and our partners,” he said in remarks published by local news site Sabq on Thursday.

Earlier this week, labour authorities in the western Saudi city of Jeddah have shut down 20 lingerie shops for not employing local women.

“They failed to comply with the rules and regulations regarding the employment of Saudi women,” Abdul Monam Al Shihri, the head of the labour ministry office in Makkah, said. “We will not hesitate to take the appropriate action against any shop that does not respect the regulations that aim to enable Saudi women to feel at ease as they are shopping,” he said.

With rising Saudi unemployment figures, the labour ministry has launched ambitious programmes to reduce reliance on foreigners and boost the employment of local graduates and women.

Plans drawn up by the ministry to address economic and social issues included motivating women to take up jobs in shops and supermarkets, a move that was staunchly resisted by conservatives who saw it as “a way to undermine local traditions and corrupt the Saudi society.”

However, the ministry insisted on carrying out its multi-phased plans despite insults to labour ministry officials, and the sight of Saudi women cashiers in supermarkets and in lingerie shops has now become familiar, mainly in large cities.

Women garment shops that refused to replace their foreign employees with Saudi women have faced measures that included being shut for a specific number of days and threats of greater action against them.

On August 7, the labour office in the Eastern cities of Dammam and Khobar shut down nine shops in a mall in Dhahran for not complying with the regulations to employ only women in lingerie shops. Several men were detained for working in the shops.

About one third of the total population in Saudi Arabia estimated at 27 million is made up of foreigners, mainly unskilled people working in the construction and service sectors.