Away from ex­pa­tri­ate driv­ers


Gulf News - - GULF -

fter the his­toric de­ci­sion to re­verse a ban on women driv­ing in Saudi Ara­bia, thou­sands of fam­ily driv­ers, mainly from South Asia, fear that their ser­vices will no longer be needed.

For decades, Saudi women have de­pended tremen­dously on their driv­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the Gen­eral Au­thor­ity for Statis­tics, there are al­most 1.4 mil­lion fam­ily driv­ers in Saudi Ara­bia, con­sti­tut­ing a whop­ping 60 per cent of for­eign do­mes­tic work­ers.

With women fi­nally able to drive, de­mand for fam­ily driv­ers could soon dwin­dle.

A re­port in Al Mad­i­nah news­pa­per stated that ap­prox­i­mately 60 per cent of driv­ers risk los­ing their jobs.

Speak­ing to Gulf News, many fam­ily driv­ers say they are wor­ried their ser­vices will no longer be re­quired.

Saudi na­tional Dhai Moawadh, who works as an ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary at Dr Samir Ab­bas Hos­pi­tal, said, “Once I’m al­lowed to drive, why will I need a driver to take me to work or run er­rands?”

On av­er­age, driv­ers in Saudi Ara­bia make be­tween 1,500—2,200 riyals (Dh1,469Dh2,155) a month. Many are the sole bread­win­ners for their fam­i­lies back home.

Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal an­a­lysts, driv­ers send about 60 per cent of their in­come to their home coun­try, which col­lec­tively amounts to an es­ti­mated 1.23 bil­lion Saudi riyals monthly.

An­war, from In­dia, used to work here as a driver for an up­per mid­dle class fam­ily for four years be­fore be­com­ing home­sick and re­quest­ing his em­ploy­ers to send him back

“Back in New Delhi, I was not able to make ends meet as a fam­ily driver and the work was also too much,” he said, adding that he re­turned to Jed­dah af­ter two years. Driv­ers in Saudi Ara­bia make be­tween 1,500—2,200 riyals a month. Many are the sole bread­win­ners for their fam­i­lies back home.

Now, An­war wor­ries his em­ployer will send him back.

Some Saudis who spoke to Gulf News said they are re­lieved that soon they will no longer have to rely on driv­ers.

A Pak­istani driver

‘No more ex­cuses’

Many Saudis com­plain that be­cause women were de­pen­dant on driv­ers for al­most every­thing, many chauf­feurs would take ad­van­tage of them. Some driv­ers would al­legedly not an­swer their phones, refuse to work on week­ends, and ac­crue traf­fic tick­ets.

Some even went so far as to ex­tort their em­ploy­ers and de­mand salary bumps each year, ac­cord­ing to some Saudis. Saudi na­tional Umm Ameen said, “Thank God for women be­ing able to drive now as I won’t have to deal with my driver and his tantrums any­more. Every day he has some ex­cuse or a story ready that re­volves around money.”

An In­done­sian driver, Seri, who works for a mid­dle class fam­ily, said he typ­i­cally asks his em­ployer for a raise at the time of re­newal of his con­tract every Novem­ber, but this time he would not.

Pak­istani driver Ah­mad Zia works for an el­derly Saudi woman. In ad­di­tion to run­ning her er­rands he makes ex­tra trips to drop her daugh­ter to and from univer­sity.

While he wel­comes the de­creased work­load, he will also miss out on the ex­tra pay he used to rake in.

To hire an ex­pa­tri­ate driver from abroad and bring him to Saudi Ara­bia is not only tax­ing for fam­i­lies but also in­volves a lengthy and tire­some re­cruit­ment process.

It costs a fam­ily ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 to 12,000 Saudi riyals up­front, which in­cludes gov­ern­ment, re­cruit­ment of­fice, and visa fees, med­i­cal fit­ness tests, and air-ticket.

High cost of hir­ing a driver

An­nu­ally, it costs a fam­ily ap­prox­i­mately 40,000 to 45,000 Saudi riyals.

The cost in­cludes salary, hous­ing, phone bills, res­i­dence per­mit and driv­ing li­cence re­newals, and med­i­cal in­sur­ance every year; and a re­turn ticket once every two years.

Women’s driv­ing would help re­duce Saudi fam­i­lies’ fi­nan­cial bur­den ex­po­nen­tially, along­side en­cour­ag­ing them to en­ter the work­force.

Sadiya A Nadeem is a free­lance jour­nal­ist based in Jed­dah

Fam­ily driver Ah­mad Zia on his way to pick up his em­ployer’s daugh­ter from col­lege.

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