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With deregulation going increasingly global, a story about a state-owned business in Saudi Arabia contemplating privatization might come as no surprise. However, the head honcho at Saudi Arabian Airlines did the inconceivable. He asked employees what thought.

Dr. Mohamed Ramady described the consultations by the airline’s management with its employees as remarkable and innovative. Ramady is a visiting associate professor in finance and economics at King Fahd University in Dhahran.

For the first time in Saudi public sector history,” wrote Ramady, “a state owned enterprise contemplating privatization held a frank dialogue between its senior management and its employees on the opportunities and challenges facing them before and after privatization. Under the banner “Future Horizons,” Saudi Arabian Airlines – Saudia – explored concepts such as change, competition, customer orientation, adaptation and survival without government financial assistance in the long term.”

Senior managers were “astonished” by the move, particularly given the history of labour relations in Saudi Arabia, Ramady wrote. “All too often the privatization process is a fait accompli to employees and this causes a lot of resentment and fear.”

While the tactic might be new to the Middle East, the results, unfortunately, were not. The airline is set to be privatized regardless of what employees prefer. According to Ramady, despite the rather liberal approach with the employees, most of their concerns remain unanswered. These include concerns “such as what happens to their benefits after privatization, would their current Saudia pensions continue, how would they be rewarded and evaluated, would they remain at the same pay structures under a privatized airline and so on.”

- With files from the Arab News