There is a ready pool of labour in the country willing to work, but a lack of coordination between firms and the government makes recruiting a challenge.
Labour mobility is a win-win scenario
Tough economic realities in the UAE, as everywhere else, are forcing companies to look for more cost-efficient ways to hire staff. And one of the most promising ideas is re-employment: hiring employees, especially unskilled manual workers, from the labour pool already in the UAE.
But for that idea to work, company policies must go hand-in-hand with streamlined bureaucracy.
As reported in The National last week, staffing firms are calling on companies, particularly construction and property development firms, to prioritise the recruitment of labourers already living in the Emirates rather than go through the process of hiring employees from abroad. A commitment to such corporate social-responsibility strategies would help to ensure that unemployed workers, many of whom have gone unpaid for months, are given a chance to get their lives back on track.
"It would help the workers a lot," said Deepak Sharma, the chief executive of QBG Services, an integrated facility management company. "They could stay on in the country and earn money, rather than being forced to go back to their countries after a company is shut." Like many others, Mr Sharma wants government officials to ease the process of transferring visas.
Currently, obtaining a no-objection letter from former employers remains one of the key hurdles that employees must surmount to change jobs. The bureaucracy, paperwork and time required means that firms still often find it easier to recruit from abroad.
Another reason is that for certain professional categories, a good conduct certificate needs ratification by the police before an individual can switch jobs. Companies have been known to block this process for former employees, leaving them mired in more bureaucracy and unable to provide for their families.
Streamlining strict employment regulations would benefit all sides. Companies with manpower shortages would be able to hire at lower costs; official paperwork and bureaucracy would decrease; and abandoned or unemployed workers would be provided a lifeline without the burden, and in many cases the shame, of having to return to their home countries.
Increased labour mobility would benefit the overall economy. That by itself is a compelling argument for bureaucratic reform.