Saudi Arabia switches to ‘Western’ Gregorian calendar so it can pay workers less and save money
Civil servants will lose 11 days of payment after their salary becomes based on the solar Gregorian calendar rather than the lunar Hijri calendar
Saudi Arabia has switched to the “Western” Gregorian calendar to pay its civil servants in one of a number of financial reforms announced by the Council of Ministers.
The Kingdom has used the lunar-based Hijri calendar since it was founded in 1932, but switched to the solar-based Gregorian calendar for paying public sector staff on 1 October.
The Islamic lunar calendar is made up of 12 months, each 29 or 30 days long depending on the sighting of the moon, with the year usually 354 days long – 11 days shorter than its Western equivalent.
The shift will mean civil servants will lose 11 days of payment as salary days are cut, bringing the nation’s public sector in line with the way private sector employees are paid, Gulf News reports.
The move is one of many cost cutting measures announced by the oil-producing Kingdom following the weekly cabinet season chaired by King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz.
The ruling Council of Ministers, chaired by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, announced that anyone applying for a visa to the country to complete the Islamic pilgrimage Hajj for a second time will be charged SR2000 (£410) for each visit.
Prices for general visits will increase to SR200 (£41) for a two-month visa and SR300 (£61) for three and were implemented on Sunday.
Bonus payments for state employees have been also been cancelled and ministers’ salaries cut by 20 per cent.
Wage increases have been suspended and allowances curbed for public-sector employees, according to royal decrees and a cabinet statement published by state media.
The salaries of members of a legislative body that advises the monarchy have been cut by 15 per cent.
Perks for senior officials were also scaled back. The government stopped providing cars to senior state officials for their next financial year and announced that ministers will pay fees for their fixed and mobile phones at the start of the next Islamic year.
The decisions are part of a plan spearheaded by Prince Mohammed, the king’s son and second-in-line to the throne of the biggest Arab economy, and they appear to signal a determination to reduce the highest budget deficit among the world’s 20 biggest economies amid low oil prices and a lingering war in neighbouring Yemen.
During a meeting of Opec nations in Algiers in September, the Kingdom and the 11 other members agreed to cut oil production for the first time after their bid to out-compete cheaper US shale gas failed.
Opec has also been hit by the lifting of economic sanctions against Iranian oil. Oil prices reached a peak of $100 (£77) a barrel in the middle of 2014 but fell as low as $26 (£20) a barrel in February this year.
Under Prince Mohammed’s so-called Vision 2030 plan, the government seeks to reduce the public-sector wage bill to 40 per cent of spending by 2020, from 45 per cent today. Public debt is forecast to climb to 30 per cent of economic output from 7.7 per cent currently.