Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Saudi jobseekers move into Uber gear for extra cash

Saudi jobseekers move into Uber gear for extra cash

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Saudi driver Hussein adjusts his traditional shemagh head cover before getting into his car to start the day working for Uber, in the capital Riyadh. AFP

Saudi jobseekers move into Uber gear for extra cash

Burdened by a bank loan, Ibrahim Ahmed searched for years for a second job before opting for something once seen as menial in oil-rich Saudi Arabia – driving for a ride-hailing app.

Such blue-collar occupations have largely been the preserve of low-income foreign workers in the formerly tax-free petro state, which long offered its citizens cradle-to-grave welfare.

But Saudis are increasingly taking on what are widely seen as low status jobs in an age of dipping oil prices, as the government trims subsidies amid sluggish economic growth and high unemployment.

Like tens of thousands of Saudis looking to make extra money, 31-year-old Ahmed turned to the global giant Uber Technologies Inc, whose drivers in the conservative kingdom had always been predominantly foreign workers.

For the father of three, a salary of 8,000 riyals ($2,100) per month as an employee at a private company in Riyadh was not enough to support his family and cover a monthly housing loan of 4,000 riyals.

“I finish my job at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and this is what made it difficult to find a second job,” Ahmed, clad in a white traditional thobe, told AFP.

“My income after paying the monthly loan would be so limited, and we went through four years of this drought.”

In 2017, Ahmed sold his car to put a down payment on a new vehicle and enrolled with Uber.

The company’s spokesman says it is available in 20 cities across the kingdom and employs more than 200,000 Saudi drivers.

“I work for seven hours a day, five days a week, and make an average of 6,000 riyals per month from Uber,” said Ahmed, adding that the second job had helped ease his financial burden.

Nearly two-thirds of all Saudis are employed by the government in secure and often undemanding white-collar jobs.

But as the public sector wage bill balloons, the kingdom – pushing reforms for a post-oil era – is seeking to wean citizens off government largesse.

Cultural attitudes to work are slowly changing in a country where 40 per cent of Saudis are aged between 20 and 40, with a new crop of nationals working in food trucks and gas stations for the first time.

Often these are second jobs to augment their incomes as high costs of living push many into debt.

“A large number of Saudis have joined Uber for the part-time, flexible economic opportunity it provides,” said a company spokesman.

Uber, which launched in the kingdom in 2014, acquired Dubai-based Careem Networks FZ LLC last year for $3.1 billion.

Both Uber and Careem have hired women since the kingdom lifted its ban on female motorists in 2018.

“I have paid off a third of [my wedding and car] loans thanks to Uber,” said Khaled, a 27-year-old newly-wed Saudi man.

“I work 10 hours a day in addition to my other job to quickly settle my two loans.”

For years, the kingdom has been struggling to pursue “Saudisation” – a programme to get firms to employ more locals.

Unemployment in Saudi Arabia for the third quarter of last year stood at 12 per cent, a marginal improvement from 12.7 per cent in 2018, official figures show.

“Young Saudis are accepting jobs they previously would not have accepted,” Abdullah al-Maghlouth, a member of the Saudi Economic Association, told AFP.

“The presence of foreign companies, such as Uber and Careem, give young Saudis the opportunity to pursue these jobs . . . and increase their income,” he added.

There appears to be somewhat more prestige in working for a ride-hailing app than driving an ordinary taxi, largely reserved for foreign workers.

But there remains a stigma in the conservative kingdom attached to blue-collar jobs in general.

Turki al-Oneizi says he does not care about dirty looks.

“With Uber, I’m my own boss,” the 33-year-old said.

“There is no shame as long as I’m doing something that does not violate my morals and ethics. This is something that improves my social and economic situation.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants

  • Time to Rise by rapper, chapei legend is viral hit with ancient-modern mix

    Kong Nay is known internationally as the master of the chapei dang veng, a traditional Cambodian instrument resembling a long-necked lute or guitar with two nylon strings that he was already playing professionally by the age of 15. Nay is sometimes referred to as the Cambodian