Emiratisation of workforce 'pillar of growth'

The UAE needs to intensify its drive to bridge the massive gap in its expatriate-dominated demographic structure and replace foreign labour with nationals as part of a strategic policy, according to a prominent UAE social official and researcher. 

Abdullah Al Awadhi, Consultant at the Government's National Human Resources Development and Recruitment Authority (Tanmia), said finding jobs for citizens is an important constituent of national sovereignty, the constitution and laws that "should not be tampered with or violated". 

He said the national workforce in the country's private sector has never exceeded one per cent of the total workforce, while the number of jobs publicly offered to citizens is exaggerated and is like "birds on a tree".

"Nationalisation of the UAE society is a strategic pillar that enables citizens to harness the resources and fortunes of the country in their interest and the interest of all who contribute to the development of society," Awadhi wrote in an article published by the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), a prominent think-tank in the region. 

"Those opposed to this view level the charge of 'racism,' which is an accusation that has no place in this country. There are also those who raise the issue of discrimination between citizens and expatriates in matters that affect state sovereignty with respect to the employment of its citizens," he wrote. 

Awadhi, author of several books, said those who make such accusations are "oblivious of the fact that this country has embraced around five million people and that this place has never shunned foreigners".

Widening gap 

His figures showed that in the early 1970s, the percentage of nationals in the total population stood at 68 per cent, while today it does not exceed 10 per cent. "The demographic composition of society is asymmetrical to the extent that the situation cannot be tolerated any longer and has to be corrected in favour of citizens without removing the other side from the equation," he said. 

"The low number of UAE's citizens in the demographic structure has left the country in a unique and unnatural historical and political phenomenon. No society has faced a similar problem on this highly sensitive issue that is the demographic imbalance that the population in the country is afflicted with." 

Awadhi, holder of a doctorate degree in Criminal Sociology from the University of Manchester, said the labour gap was not better than that in the population despite stated official objectives of increasing the national workforce. 

"If we move to the issue of employment of national labour, the picture is not any better than the population imbalance. The total workforce of nationals in the private sector, which is the primary supporter of the country's economy, has not exceeded one per cent since the formation of the country," he said. 

"To date, this crisis persists and has not been resolved in favour of citizens, despite decisions for nationalisation of jobs in several sectors of the economy, as part of a gradual policy of nationalisation."

Not enough jobs 

Awadhi said that despite the huge size of the UAE economy and despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the region, which is capable of creating thousands of jobs annually in the private sector alone, it has not been able to find suitable employment for its citizens. 

A member of the Ad-Hoc Crime Prevention Committee at the Ministry of Interior, Awadhi said the UAE has what he described as an honourable and bright political history of implementing policies for enabling citizens to get a suitable job in their homeland, "because it knows well that its citizens have never worked and will not work outside the country". 

"The day will not come when they will become immigrant labour, as is the case with some of our Arab brothers and foreigners," he said. 

"In the past, officials responsible for nationalisation and employment have said that jobs are available. This is proved by the fact that thousands of expatriate labour is coming into the country annually to work in the existing commercial and economic projects, as part of a long-term strategy… however, this employment generation does not adequately benefit the national citizen whose proportion to the expatriate labour force is much less and the current flaws in the labour market are not better than the demographic anomalies in the UAE society." 

As a result, finding jobs for nationals – whose numbers have increased with expansion in education – is becoming increasingly difficult, he added.

Birds on a tree 

"In reality, when the matter of abundance of jobs in the labour market is discussed in the media, the number 'million' appears invariably. However, this number is like birds on a tree as the actual number is hardly anything compared to jobs on offer for incoming foreign labour," Awadhi said. 

"Thus, there is an obvious decline in nationalisation when viewed from all its procedural and political aspects. Politically, nationalisation of jobs has not been successful though the government has made it mandatory for some sectors to reserve a specific percentage of jobs to nationals." 

In Awadhi's view, there is a big difference between employment and nationalisation as the first means employing a citizen in a vacant position, or creating a post for the citizen as part of every new budget. Nationalisation, on the other hand, is a wider concept and has far-reaching implications at the strategic level, he said. 

"Although we hear that nationalisation and the employment of citizens is currently ongoing, it has to be understood that nationals are also quitting jobs in large numbers. How can the country benefit from this equation if citizens are appointed in the beginning of the year but are either sacked or quit the job a few months or a few years later," he said. 

"This is a setback for nationalisation… the promotion of nationalisation in all public and private sectors has a positive effect on the interest of the country as it saves the cost of rehabilitation of citizens. The programmes for such rehabilitation come at a huge cost that could be better spent in motivating and promoting citizens in their jobs." 

Awadhi warned that if the state of nationalisation remains as it is, then fresh graduates would be left with no choice but to first learn other skills even if they specialise in engineering, medicine or administration.

Necessity for retraining 

"In other words, lack of job security keeps the situation fluid because a citizen only gets employment after years of study and experience have gone to waste. In order to confront this problem, it would be important to tackle nationalisation and its related issues from the beginning to the end…. Promoting nationalisation would save national job-seekers from marginalisation. This comes at a time when our government is seeking to exert national energies towards advancement, progress and success." 

In a previous study, Awadhi said more than 40,000 UAE nationals at work age are jobless, boosting the unemployment rate to its highest level since the country was established 39 years ago. 

He said the surge in that rate was a result of a continuous influx of expatriate labour and obstacles in the implementation of job nationalisation plans. 

Despite the "numerous" institutions created by the UAE to tackle such a problem, the results "appear negative at the end of every year", he said. 

"This problem has started to convince us that there is a sort of imbalance or a legal gap... it could also be a lack of co-ordination among those institutions… the problem is that such negative results emerge amidst compelling government decisions to the private sector to raise the number of national workers," he said.

Modest job quota 

He referred to existing government rules forcing the banking sector to have a minimum four per cent local manpower and the insurance sector to have five per cent. For the private sector as a whole, the percentage is set at two per cent. 

"Despite these modest requirements for national workforce as the government believes in a step-by-step policy, the results have remained far below ambition nearly a decade after those legislations were issued," he said. 

"Such results make us believe that the work environment in the local market is repulsive rather than attractive for citizens… the concerned institutions could conduct field studies on hundreds of national graduates who have left their jobs just after a few months to verify such a fact… these institutions should then study such problems seriously and present their outcome to the government so that it can resolve this riddle and find real solutions." A survey released by the Ministry of Economy at the end of last year put the total unemployment rate in the UAE at just four per cent but said the rate among nationals far exceeds that among expatriates because of the low level of national workers in the private sector. It noted that nationals still prefer the public sector for more job benefits. 

The report showed that the unemployment rate among UAE citizens was as high as 13.8 per cent while that in expatriates it was only 2.6 per cent. It also showed that the private sector provided the bulk of the jobs in the UAE, accounting for nearly 63.3 per cent of the total workforce. 

The Federal Government sector accounted for around 7.9 per cent while 10.7 per cent worked for the local government and 4.1 per cent for joint local-federal departments, the ministry said. The rest are employed by foreign diplomatic missions and local families, mostly domestic maids.
Participation of women 

A survey released by the Ministry of Economy at the end of last year showed that the UAE was making headway in the employment of national women after the women started to get easier access to education.
The ministry's figures showed national women have boosted their share of the job market to a record 13.9 per cent as they push their way into the labour market. 

The share has steadily risen from 9.6 per cent in 1985 to reach about 11.7 per cent in 1995 and 13.5 per cent in 2005. 

It stood at 13.6 per cent in 2007 before rising that level in 2008. It is believed to have risen further in 2009. A breakdown showed the women's share of the labour force stood at 15.6 per cent in Abu Dhabi in 2008 and 12.5 per cent in Dubai. Both emirates, the largest and wealthiest members of the UAE, have made substantial progress in providing jobs to women as their share was relatively small 25 years ago. 

As for the general population, nationals stood at around 923,000 in mid 2009, accounting for around 18 per cent of the total population of 5.06 million. The UAE has one of the world's highest GDP per capita incomes, standing at around Dh150,000 in 2009. It peaked at nearly Dh200,000 in 2008, when the nominal gross domestic product climbed to a record Dh934 billion and the population was 4.7 million. 

The second-largest in the Arab world after Saudi Arabia, its economy has grown by at least 15 per cent in nominal terms during 2003-2008. Real GDP was as high as 7.4 per cent in 2008. – Emirates Business 24|7

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