Manama: More than 1.3 million people are employed in the public sector in Saudi Arabia, an official report indicates.

“The number of the state employees was 1,318,501 last month,” the report by the Ministry of Civil Service said. “Men constitute 61 per cent of the total employees while women make up the remaining 38.7 per cent,” the statistics said, local news Sabq reported on Wednesday.

The number of non-Saudis working for the government was 73,010, mostly taking up positions in the health and education, especially higher education, sectors, it added.

Saudi Arabia is home to 27 million people, including around nine million foreigners, mostly unskilled workers in the booming construction and service sectors.

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 threats and challenges, 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 Monday, 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.