Riyadh: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has replaced Saudi Arabia's labour minister, state media reported, after recent statistics showed a rise in unemployment in the kingdom.
In a royal decree read on state television, the king also reshuffled the country's top religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, and the Shura Council, which advises the government.
The changes come as the kingdom prepares to implement reforms proposed by its Vision 2030, which aims to reduce dependence on oil, attract foreign investments and promote more cultural openness
State television said King Salman had appointed Ali bin Nasser Al Ghafis as labour minister to replace Mufrej Al Haqbani.
Ghafis is currently head of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, a network of colleges set up to train young Saudis in the trades.
The programme had long been regarded as ineffective but received a new lease on life under former labour minister Adel Fakieh, who is now a leading figure in the kingdom's initiative to transform its oil-dependent economy.
The king also changed the head of the country's consultative Shura Council and replaced several members of the assembly.
Some members of the council have recently come under fire on social media for proposing or supporting cuts to some social benefits and the raising of prices of some basic services.
Haqbani faced a slew of challenges in his time at the helm of the Labour Ministry, as a sharp drop in crude prices slashed government revenues and took a toll on economic growth.
Job creation dried up this year amid severe cuts to public spending and delays in state payments to contractors, despite reforms geared toward creating jobs for Saudis.
The unemployment rate rose to 12.1 per cent in the third quarter, up from 11.6 per cent the previous quarter.
The kingdom's economic reform plan, led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has set targets to cut the jobless rate to 7 per cent by 2030 and raise women's participation in the labour force to 30 per cent from 22 per cent.
The appointment of more modern-thinking clerics to the Council of Senior Scholars also appears to support the reform plan, which has courted controversy in the kingdom by calling for entertainment and women's employment.
New members include Mohammed Al Issa, a previous minister of justice and former member of the council often cited by liberals as the sort of moderate cleric that reformers in the royal family want to promote.
Another new member, Sulaiman Aba Al Khail, was formerly head of the religiously-oriented Imam bin Saud University and described by Saudi Twitter users as liberal.
Aba Al Khail was quoted in an interview with Al Watan newspaper last month as saying that some scholars have corrupted the minds of young Saudis.