x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emirati jobs target 'will fail without subsidies'

UAE Minister of Labour tells meeting of GCC labour officials that gap between private and government salaries is so large that subsidies would be required to meet Emiratisation targets.

ABU DHABI // Efforts to place more Emiratis in private-sector jobs are unlikely to succeed unless the Government subsidises salaries, the Minister of Labour said yesterday.

"What can we do when it comes to Emiratisation — that's my main concern," Saqr Ghobash told a meeting of GCC labour ministers in the capital.

"Why do we need subsidies? Because the gap between the private and government salaries is quite big. Unless we provide these subsidies, there is a little chance that we will succeed with Emiratisation."

Mr Ghobash said the issue might seem to be of little immediate concern, but the real problem could lie 10 years in the future.

The ministry was not in a position to say who should fill specific private-sector posts, a decision that ultimately lay with business owners, he said.

The GCC ministers did not discuss setting quotas or limits for expatriate workers to encourage a local workforce, Mr Ghobash said, but "we are studying what are the challenges of localisation".

A Gulf-wide policy for the labour market was discussed, but nothing has been finalised, he said.

"The most important aspect of this joint action is the collaboration and exchange of knowledge in such vital and decisive areas as enabling our citizens, especially youth, to find job opportunities," he said.

"This is an essential element in our efforts to preserve national identity, introduce reform into the labour market and develop our labour legislation."

At yesterday's meeting, ministers applauded the efforts of the Saudi telecommunications company STC, where more than 91 per cent of the staff are Saudi nationals.

Dr Khaled Al Souhem, STC's general manager of resource development, said the company had targeted a Saudi workforce since it was formed in 1998.

They had achieved it by recruiting Saudi nationals from graduate school onwards, providing training opportunities and giving them experience in crucial tasks, such as sending them abroad to negotiate investments.

"The goal is to create incentives," Dr Al Souhem said. "It is not hard to bring people in; what is hard is keeping them."

The Saudi labour minister, Adel Fakeih, said his country could never eliminate all expatriate employees, but attracting Saudis to the labour market was important because of the 10 per cent unemployment rate among the country's citizens.

Qatar, meanwhile, is encouraging private companies to recruit only Arab labourers rather than those from Asian countries to avoid what its government sees as social and security problems.

"We are targeting Arabs in general, because the number of the [Qatari and GCC] population is small," said Hussain Al Mulla, undersecretary at the labour ministry in Qatar.

A special committee is negotiating with private companies to focus on workers from countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, he said.

Mr Ghobash said such a policy would be impracticable for the UAE because most Emiratis and Arabs in general would not fill low-income posts.

According to estimates from the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi, about 73 per cent of Emiratis in the capital are below the age of 30 and a large number are at or near the point of graduation from secondary school and university.

With more Emiratis looking for work, concerns are rising that the public sector cannot absorb them all, and the Government is trying to steer graduates to the private sector.

But authorities have met numerous challenges, mainly that government jobs continue to be better paid.

An announcement by the Abu Dhabi Tawteen Council (ADTC) early last year indicated that Emiratisation quotas on private companies could eventually be scrapped, and the Government will offer subsidies to companies to encourage them to employ and retain Emirati staff.

No timeline was given for the phasing out of the quota system, but officials from ADTC suggested it would happen as more Emiratis become better qualified to enter the private sector.

A policy study compiled by researchers from United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) last summer found that the Emirati public sector employment market was reaching saturation point, and recommended that the Government should focus on education reform and subsidising of private-sector wages rather than Emiratisation quotas.

hdajani@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Manal Ismail