Jeddah: Saudis have begun complaining of surging labour costs following the exodus of a million foreign workers, although economists insist there will be long-term planning benefits from fully regulating the market.
Professionals in the kingdom, both Saudi and expatriate, say the freelance tradesmen who used to queue for odd jobs in public squares have virtually disappeared since police patrols began the strict enforcement of tough labour laws this week, rounding up thousands of illegals for deportation.
They have been forced to turn instead to authorised service companies, which charge double the rate or more to hire out electricians or plumbers.
"I had great difficulty finding a carpenter even at a higher price," complained primary school teacher Majed Hasan.
"I have been told that freelance carpenters have disappeared. I went to a services company and was told that they can provide me with a carpenter for 150 riyals ($40) -- double what I used to pay."
From Monday, the authorities began rounding up thousands of illegal foreign workers following the expiry of a final amnesty for them to regularise their work status in the kingdom.
Those considered illegal range from overstaying visitors and pilgrims who seek jobs, to shop assistants and day labourers working for someone other than their official sponsor, a requirement in Saudi Arabia as in most other Gulf states.
Nearly a million migrants -- Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Indians, Nepalis, Pakistanis and Yemenis among them -- took advantage of the amnesty to leave the country.
Another roughly four million regularised their situation by finding employers to sponsor them but in so doing virtually emptied the market of cheap freelance labour.
"I usually find a plumber quickly. This time, I`ve roamed three areas and I couldn`t find a single one," complained Mahmud Badr, an Egyptian doctor who lives in the kingdom`s commercial capital Jeddah.
He said he was shocked by "how service workers vanished, after they were so easy to find" queueing in public squares for the chance to earn a few dollars.