x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Prosperity is tied to a strong work ethic

Like any other nation, work is the foundation of the UAE, and young people need to recognise the opportunities they have before them.

All over the developed world, governments are struggling with welfare budgets, trying to find the right balance between incentives to work and a welfare level that does not encourage people to remain idle. In the UAE, a similar problem exists. Though population numbers and vast resources mean it is a smaller challenge, this issue is nonetheless one officials must get right, and soon.

The value of work goes beyond merely earning a salary. As Mona Al Za'abi, head of the Work is Life programme at the Ministry of Social Affairs, told The National, "There is a misconception of the value of work, and a perception that benefits are a granted right that many see no reason to give up."

The ministry's social safety net currently has 15,000 Emiratis on its books, people who are receiving assistance but are also able to work. To encourage some of those to give up their dependency on the state, Ms Al Za'abi has mooted the idea of removing benefits from those who turn down three job offers.

Ms Al Za'abi's words will seem tough to many of those unemployed. But her logic is sound. Work is the foundation of any nation and young people the world over need to recognise the opportunities they have before them. In the UAE these opportunities were unimaginable just a decade ago. Ms Al Za'abi says the problem of those unemployed refusing jobs is especially acute among women, some of whom refuse to accept jobs with high salaries if they feel the job is not "prestigious" enough.

In such cases, a two-prong approach is needed. Naturally, people should not be forced to accept work that would violate their ethics; if families of young women do not wish them to travel outside of their emirate, for instance, that is a reasonable reason to decline a job. But declining an offer because it is insufficiently prestigious is not a question of ethics.

Those who feel that taking a job in a mall or doing shift work is somehow "below" them have a skewed view of the value and importance of work. A work ethic is like a muscle; it builds from repeated exertion.

The Work is Life programme is vital to the prosperity of Emiratis and the nation. The suggestion from Ms Al Za'abi is worth considering. Once the unemployed see that they cannot expect a free ride forever, they will be more likely to make the most of the opportunities presented.