Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 August 2020

How to move on from a pay cut or job loss during the Covid-19 crisis

UAE residents discuss how they adjust their finances, cope with the changing circumstances and find new opportunities

Illustration by Mathew Kurian
Illustration by Mathew Kurian

Several months into the coronavirus crisis, UAE residents who lost their jobs or had their their income reduced are wondering what to do next.

They have two options: either they adjust their finances or look for new opportunities in a challenging climate.

As countries worldwide start to reopen their economies and slowly return to normal life, there is room for some cautious optimism. In the UAE, after a strict lockdown in April, economic activity is resuming as part of a phased approach, with hotels, retailers and sports providers returning to business.

However, many residents have already been affected financially. In a Mercer survey conducted last month across the GCC, 27 per cent of organisations stated they had made cuts to employees's pay in the region.

The most common range of salary reduction has been between 15-25 per cent, says Nuno Gomes, head of career at Mercer Menat.

“There has been a greater prevalence of salary cuts at the executive and managerial levels, but … about half of the organisations that have done pay cuts, have done them for lower levels,” Mr Gomes says.

David Mackenzie, group managing director for recruitment firm Mackenzie Jones, says eight in 10 of the companies or candidates they are speaking to have faced temporary pay cuts of up to 50 per cent.

“Some companies are implementing permanent cuts now as well,” Mr Mackenzie says.

The most affected sectors include retail, hospitality, travel, engineering and construction, real estate and diversified conglomerates, recruiters say.

As for those who have lost their jobs, “there are still vacancies in the market, however candidates need to be much more flexible in terms of salary requirements and expectations”, says Ian Giulianotti, executive director of recruitment and executive search at Nadia Global.

Here, five UAE residents explain how they are moving forward to cope with pay cuts or job losses.

Haris Velijevic, 30, works for a travel booking company and has been on a 20% pay cut since April. Reem Mohammed / The National
Haris Velijevic, 30, works for a travel booking company and has been on a 20% pay cut since April. Reem Mohammed / The National

'My 20% salary cut spurred me to save more'

Haris Velijevic, a data products manager for a large travel and hospitality group, received a 20 per cent pay cut in April.

“Most of our work comes from flight and hotel bookings, so as you can imagine we were very heavily impacted once countries started shutting down and once travel was completely restricted,” says Mr Velijevic, 30.

“It didn’t feel like a shock, it was more of a wake-up call in terms of, ‘yes, people are losing their jobs, salaries are being cut’,” says the Bosnian, who has lived in Dubai for 18 months.

While he says his normal salary was “comfortable” and allowed him to save money, the 20 per cent reduction has forced him to make an inventory of all his activities and spending habits.

“Throughout my life I was quite spontaneous with my money,” says Mr Velijevic, who is single. “This was actually a great opportunity to start being more responsible towards finances.”

Previously he aimed to save 20 to 30 per cent of his salary. “Now I’m committed to putting 25 per cent of the money I earn into savings,” he says.

He is hopeful that as travel restrictions ease, bookings will pick up again. The company said the reduction is subject to revision based on developments, and has been providing regular updates.

“I appreciate that we are not being kept in the dark,” he says, adding that he has no intention to leave the UAE or look for another job, and has decided to “stay and wait”.

'Taking a 50% pay cut was worth it to help our employer survive'

Millie, 29, and Harry, 27, who are married, are in a “unique situation” because they both work for the same Dubai sports activity provider and have both been on half pay since mid-March.

The decision was made on a voluntary basis “in the hope that it helps the company survive as long as possible”, says Millie, who manages the administration and customer service.

The British couple, who declined to use their last names, are now earning a combined monthly income of less than Dh9,000.

“That covers our fixed expenses … and our basic, basic groceries, and that’s it,” Millie says.

Their expenses include two car loans, for which they were able to get a one-month deferment from their banks, and Dh4,100 in rent.

They have dipped into their savings and cut back on discretionary spending, such as buying organic products at the grocery store or ordering in meals.

While the couple used to get takeaway once a week on average, they have only ordered meal delivery twice since March – “and one was for our anniversary, so we treated ourselves”, says Millie.

Harry, a business development manager, says their financial struggle now is still “worth it for the job that hopefully will be on the other side”.

“The way we try to stay optimistic about the whole thing is that, in theory, as soon as we can start to resume, all of our clients will want to come back,” Harry says. “The business is still there. We just aren’t able to execute it right now.”

Muzammil Shaikh, who has lived his whole life in the UAE, has lost his job twice: once following the 2008 global financial crisis and last month during the coronavirus crisis. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Muzammil Shaikh, who has lived his whole life in the UAE, has lost his job twice: once following the 2008 global financial crisis and last month during the coronavirus crisis. Chris Whiteoak / The National

'I was already living a conservative lifestyle and can manage for six months'

This is the second time Muzammil Shaikh, a Pakistani who has lived his entire life in the UAE, has lost his job. The first time was when he was working for a media group in Dubai, which merged with another organisation during the 2008 global financial crisis.

“[In 2009] it was more of a shock, because it was unexpected and I was a younger and more immature person,” says Mr Shaikh, 40.

The Ajman resident, who is married with a two-year-old son, says he anticipated over the last few months that losing his job as a broadcast engineer was a possibility due to “the current economic climate”.

Despite having worked for the media company for 10 years, he was let go last month.

Luckily, he has learnt from previous experience how to be aggressive in the job hunt and stay positive.

He suggests to others in the same situation to cast a wide net, post on social media and reach out to contacts.

“If you have a dream job, find the people on LinkedIn. If you can afford to, buy LinkedIn Premium for a while because you can get free messaging to reach out to people,” he says.

“And then from a financial point of view, an emergency fund is a must,” says Mr Shaikh, who is also a board member of SimplyFI, a non-profit community of personal finance and investing enthusiasts in the UAE.

He says he was already living a “conservative” lifestyle and can manage for at least six months due to his emergency savings.

His company has said that they will wait until August to cancel his visa, which gives him some flexibility. Beyond that, if he has still not found a job, Mr Shaikh is considering buying an Ajman Free Zone three-year visa, which would cost Dh12,000 for one person or Dh15,000 for a family.

For now, he is dedicating all of his energy to plan A to secure a new job in the UAE.

“Keep the end in mind,” he says. “The universe will always reward sincerity.”

'I've started cooking and secured a 30% rent reduction'

David has had only two jobs in his 14 years of living in Dubai. “Since I started fresh out of college, I have never lost my job … so it was a bit of a shock to the system. I didn’t know how to deal with it,” says the 40-year-old Indian, who declined to use his last name.

He was made redundant from his job as a newspaper editor at the end of February. Although unrelated to the pandemic, he found that the crisis has made the employment search much more challenging.

“Because I’ve been in the UAE for so many years, I’ve made a reasonable number of contacts in the industry,” David says. “I was really confident, but as I started making calls, the lockdown started happening, it became more and more difficult.”

In terms of finances, the company gave David a “garden leave” salary for three months and at the end of the period he will receive his end-of-service gratuity for the last nine years.

“I did not have an emergency savings plan or anything like that. I have to admit I’m personally very, very bad with my money,” says David, who is single. “Since the Covid crisis, I’ve had to have a hard look.”

He used to eat out every day, but “because I have all the time in the world, I started cooking, which saves a lot of money”, he says, learning through YouTube and his sister in India.

He also successfully negotiated a 30 per cent reduction in his Dh5,000 Sheikh Zayed Road shared apartment rent for April and May.

“If you’re an expat in the UAE and you have lost your job and it’s due to coronavirus, I would advise them to firstly look at their finances, because once your finances are in order, everything else can be taken care of,” he says.

Updated: June 3, 2020 01:02 PM

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