Despite a slowing global economy, companies are still hiring. Housing, though, remains a key concern in the recruiting process. Rents have recently fallen in Dubai after several years of inflation, but the housing market remains tight in Abu Dhabi. A one-bedroom apartment in the capital can still cost at least Dh120,000 (US$32,670) a year, brokers say, compared with an average of Dh80,000 at the start of last year.
So how companies assist employees with obtaining housing is often a key to convincing expats to accept a position. Free housing is a common requirement for teachers, says Sarah O'Hanlon, who teaches English at Al Yasmina School, which belongs to Aldar, the property developer. "My one-bedroom flat was part of my package when I came over from England last August," she says. "The whole tower is housing around 50 single teachers or other people working for Aldar. Families are living in another building near Al Wahda Mall. It is common for teachers here to get accommodation."
Rabea Ataya, the chief executive of bayt.com, a regional jobs website, says company surveys have found that nearly 75 per cent of employers provide either direct housing or a housing allowance to employees. While sharing accommodation was once the province of lower-ranking employees, managers are now being told to share. Having employees share a flat or villa is financially attractive, especially in Abu Dhabi. Mr Ataya says companies that have bought housing units want to fill them as efficiently as possible.
"We are paying Dh500,000 rent for a beautifully furnished villa in Khalifa City," says Carlyne Minard, a construction engineer for an international engineering company, who is also in charge of recruiting. "In our new contracts with singles, we will no longer give them the choice between a housing allowance and the villa. We directly send them to the villa where we can put six people. This is cheaper than an allowance."
Rami, an Egyptian engineer working for an Abu Dhabi-based construction company, had to trade his two-bedroom flat for a villa with six other colleagues. "This move was not a result of the financial crisis though, but a consequence of the housing shortage and high price in Abu Dhabi," he says. For employers, it is about trying to cut costs. Thomas Chekroun, the branch manager of a small consultancy, IS Industrie, hired a married Indian assistant over a French one last month. "I wanted to hire a French assistant but it would have cost us at least ?3,000 (Dh13,960) a month. Since our Indian candidate was married to a man who already had a housing allowance, I did not have to provide accommodation," he says.
Ms Minard also recalls an engineer the firm did not hire because of housing. "One job applicant was recently asking for a $6,000 housing allowance which is double what we usually give. He said that he had a family and needed more space. His request, among other things, contributed to our refusal. We give the same allowance for everybody, regardless of their status." The economic slowdown has had an impact on how employers and employees negotiate salary packages.
"It is an employer market place right now," Mr Ataya says. "Existing employees are on a salary freeze this year and for new staff, a recruiter can get a more qualified person for a lower package than six months ago." email@example.com