Labour Minister Ghazi Algosaibi said in an interview published in the Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper on Thursday that he was determined to end unemployment.

"I had clarified after I was appointed minister that the ministry will adopt a 13-point programme to combat the problem of unemployment. These include curbing foreign labour and raising the standards of Saudi labour," Gosaibi said.

The minister said department of statistics figures show that some 300,000 Saudis or 10% of the country's workforce are unemployed. The kingdom is home to 24 million people, some six million of whom are foreigners, mainly Asians.

Tweaking Saudisation

Algosaibi said he was considering requiring small firms to hire more Saudis under what is locally known as the "Saudisation" programme.

"Small institutions with less than 20 workers had been completely exempted from Saudisation, despite the fact that there is a large number of foreign workers in them. Perhaps it is the time to review that decision," Algosaibi said.

"As far as when unemployment would be stamped out, I think this is not possible before 3 years and I hope it would not be longer than 9 years," he added.

At least 85 police and civilians, many of them foreigners, have been killed in bombings and shootings blamed on a year-long campaign by the Saudi wing of Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida network.