Asia-Pacific, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Labour

LABOUR: UAE Pushes Local Job Seekers

Meena S Janardhan

DUBAI, Jun 22 2005 (IPS) - Reacting to fears that the number of jobless nationals in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) could hit 40,000 and to complaints that national job seekers face discrimination, authorities have intensified the drive to promote “emiratisation”.

Nationals constitute just 9.3 percent of the labour market here – a rise of just 0.2 percent from 1995, according to a 2004 report by the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority (Tanmia). Statistics also indicate that of the UAE’s total population of 4.3 million last year, only about 900,000 were nationals.

“Although only 11,000 nationals registered with Tanmia in 2004, most of them women, actual unemployment numbers are estimated to be between 37,000 and 40,000,” said Tanmia Head of Labour Market Studies Dr Abdul Razaq Al Faris, in a statement to the media.

“We are stepping up our efforts to ensure that this number (of registrations) increases sharply in the coming years. We are in the process of identifying the main obstacles and will be instituting several measures to overcome them,” added another official.

The renewed emphasis comes amid growing complaints of discrimination against nationals who try to find work in the private sector. Expatriates constitute 99 per cent of the UAE’s private-sector jobholders.

“The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has issued a stern warning that work permits will be withheld to private sector companies, which are not committed to ’emiratisation’, particularly in job sectors that suit the skills and aspirations of national graduates,” according to the official.

The oil boom in the Gulf countries in the last century exposed the region’s lack of human resources, both in terms of quality and quantity, and sparked the hiring of expatriates.

Over the years, there has been a steady increase in indigenous populations and a concerted effort to absorb locals into the labour force as part of the social and economic development process. It has been difficult, but evolving nevertheless.

The World Bank has said that close to 100 million new jobs will be needed in the Middle East over the next 20 years to absorb new entrants into the labour force.

The establishment of a training council to help UAE nationals acquire the specific skills needed for private sector jobs; the setting up of vocational training institutes; and the matching of qualified nationals to compatible institutions are some of the measures proposed by the government.

“Tanmia is also entering into agreements with several private sector institutions to implement reservation of jobs for nationals. The banking sector has already implemented this step and we hope the other sectors will follow suit,” said the official.

Typically, private sector firms in Gulf countries use three pay grades: one for westerners, the second for Arabs and the third for Asians, the first being the best paid.

If UAE companies employ nationals at all it is either because there is a new breed of talent emerging and/or because there is a law that states that all organisations with more than 100 employees must reserve a certain percentage of jobs for nationals.

“Emiratisation in the private sector is a pressing and complicated national issue. It mixes facts with illusions, success with failure, limitless expectations with crippling circumstances on the ground,” writes Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a leading academic, in the ‘Gulf News’, an English language daily.

“The minimum starting point would be attaining five per cent ’emiratisation’ within the next five years. Should this happen, it will constitute a huge national victory,” he added.

“But even this humble figure will not be realised because of the imbalanced job market, which is monopolised by foreign workers. Without interference by the government and pressure from society, the percentage of the national workforce in the private sector will not cross the current 0.5-1 per cent average, if not fall further in the near future,” he warned.

Tanmia says it is also working to highlight how private sector companies can benefit from its job-oriented training programmes like Maharat, which is designed to help national job seekers adjust to a competitive and multiracial market place.

At the same time, organisations are being encouraged to institute measures like providing college scholarships for deserving national students. And the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) has developed a new database of job seekers that will be available, free, for companies seeking to recruit nationals and for locals who want to register their availability.

Every year, the government also organises a Careers UAE fair, where its departments and other public and private sector bodies interact with nationals seeking jobs. The number of participating companies in 2005 rose 28 per cent, while job seekers reached 20,000, double the number of 2004.

“We are really happy that the government is doing so much to increase our career opportunities. We have heard about the reluctance of the private sector to employ nationals. Under the UAE labour law, work shall be an inherent right of nationals,” said Ali Al Muhairi, a university student attending the career fair.

“I will definitely grab all the opportunities that I get to hone my skills and increase my talents. When the authorities are doing so much to help us, it is only right that we don’t let them down,” said Ali.

According to Abdulkhaleq, “the theme of (Careers UAE) is important, but the more important aspect is that it is the only career event exclusively for nationals”.

Authorities, however, admit that nationals too have a role to play if they want to get into the right jobs and rise to high levels.

“The low figures are because not all job seekers apply to Tanmia for assistance, and not everybody who applies is unemployed. Moreover, our statistics also show that 44 percent of job seekers had only finished secondary studies, and another 22 percent had only a BA degree,” said Tanmia’s Abdul.

“It’s not shameful to talk about unemployment. What is shameful is for us to bury our heads in the ground and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

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