x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Emirati jobs 'are a bigger challenge than downturn'

UAE Labour minister Saqr Ghobash urges wage subsidies and reform of public services.

The integration of Emiratis into the private-sector workforce is a bigger challenge than the fallout from the global economic downturn, the Minister of Labour said yesterday.

Over-reliance on the public sector is unsustainable because of the number of new jobseekers entering the market combined with the near saturation of the sector, Saqr Ghobash told a meeting of G20 labour ministers.

Mr Ghobash said young Emiratis had historically opted for employment in the public sector because of better salaries, benefits and other incentives. In addition, he said, there was "an important mismatch between the type of jobs created in the UAE economy and the skills possessed by young men and women entering the labour market.

"On one hand, most job creation has been concentrated in low-skill, labour intensive sectors that are unattractive to national job seekers, and sustained by open admission of foreign workers at wages determined by sending countries' conditions.

"On the other hand, even attractive employment opportunities in the private sector require skills our educational and skills development systems have been slow to develop given the traditional orientation towards public-sector needs."

He suggested addressing the imbalance with government wage subsidies, public-service reform, or a combination of the two.

“The key difference is that our priorities have less to do with dealing with the fall-outs of the 2008-2010 global economic downturn, and more to do with longstanding, structural labour and employment challenges that have emerged and accumulated over the past three decades,” Mr Ghobash said in remarks reported by the state news agency Wam.

The minister said the unemployment rate among UAE nationals had risen steadily before, during and after the recent global economic downturn,

In January government figures put unemployment among nationals aged 15 and over at 12.9 per cent. Unemployment among young people between 15 and 24 years was estimated at 23.1 per cent. It also revealed that Emiratis held just over 60 per cent of government jobs in 2010.

“The public sector is approaching employment saturation, suggesting that a greater number of job seekers need to be employed in the private sector,” Mr Ghobash said.

In 2009, a report by the consultants Deloitte for the Tawteen Council, Abu Dhabi’s Emiratisation agency, said Emiratis were paid 40 per cent more than expatriates, while being perceived as 20 per cent less productive at junior levels.