In the once tax-free petro-state, blue-collar occupations such as cooking, cleaning and working at gas stations have largely been the preserve of foreign workers, who far outnumber Saudis.
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But Saudis are increasingly taking on such “low-status” jobs in a new age of austerity when gas is no longer cheaper than water and unemployment rate is about 13%, with the government trimming oil-funded subsidies and tackling sluggish economic growth and high unemployment. Nearly two-thirds of all Saudis are employed by the government, and the public sector wage bill and allowances account for roughly half of all government expenditure.
“When I started this food truck two years ago many people said: ‘What? You will sell burgers and sandwiches in the street? You come from a big family and big tribe’,” said Bader al-Ajmi, 38, the owner of One Way Burger.
Since Mr. Ajmi started his business, owning a food truck has become the trend du jour and attained a level of respectability. Working inside as a cook apparently still has not. Still, many Saudis are embracing manual labour jobs. For the first time, a new crop of nationals are working as tea sellers and car mechanics. And posh Lexus-owners work as Uber drivers for spare cash.
Last December, residents of eastern Al-Ahsa region feted a handful of young Saudis who swallowed their pride to do another job long deemed dishonourable — working at a gas station.
Mr. Ajmi said his success, which also spotlights the kingdom’s nascent start-up scene, prompted him recently to buy another food truck emblazoned with the “Mercedes Benz” logo — which has added a new veneer of respectability to the job.
“Many people… were against the (food truck),” Mr. Ajmi said. “Now they say: ‘If you have a job, let me know’.”
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