x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

EC Harris moves staff to avoid stalled contracts

The Dubai office of UK-based EC Harris will transfer staff working on stalled projects in the emirate to contracts elsewhere in the region to stave off redundancies.

The Dubai office of EC Harris, a UK-based project management and consultancy firm for the construction sector, is transferring staff to projects elsewhere in the region in an attempt to avoid redundancies brought on by stalled contracts. The move comes after the company's chief executive, Philip Youell, told the UK trade magazine Building last week that job cuts were "inevitable" as part of the firm's restructuring in light of a slowdown in the UK construction industry. A shortage of finance in the Dubai market has caused developers to rethink project plans, prompting construction consultants and contractors to search for ways of easing the blow to their order books. Michael Cairney, a director at EC Harris's Dubai office, said the company would re-assign its workforce across areas where demand was highest. EC Harris has a workforce of about 3,000 worldwide, of which more than 200 are in the UAE. "We're still in the process of doing what we can to avoid redundancies," he said. "We will consistently review the market as per the demands of our clients, and if those change then we will have to be flexible. There is going to be a severe slowdown for a while, and who knows how long it will last. "Fortunately, we're active in Fujairah, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, which are riding the storm reasonably well, to the point where one of the options would be to ask people to go and work in one of these areas." Mr Cairney added that the company - which also has a presence in Qatar and Saudi Arabia - faced uncertainty with some contracts, leading it to set up a team to review contract conditions with clients on jobs that might be delayed. "It's pretty obvious to all that large-scale developers are slowing down projects or realigning them. Some of our contracts are roaring ahead with no issues - in fact we're taking advantage of lower prices. But other clients are saying they want to hold on to us for the next few months, and not to start anything fresh. "But if a client wants to bide some time on an existing contract, there's quite an involved process in stalling the work contractually. So we've got a team which assists clients who want to carry out that action successfully, because it's a contractual nightmare." He added that the company's joint-venture deal with Sama Dubai last year, which saw the creation of a project management company, was still "in play". Meanwhile, the order books of contractors are also expected to take a hit in the next few months, raising concern for their workers and the potential for transfer of staff to more profitable areas in the region. "Things have changed dramatically in the past few months," said Grahame McCaig, the general manager at Dutco Balfour Beatty. "The cost escalation issues we faced four or five months ago are no longer relevant. Now it's about cash management, liquidity and making sure our people are working. If a project gets pushed back by three or four months, that can affect your financial turnover for the year." agiuffrida@thenational.ae