Courtesy: Dawn News/AFP
DUBAI: With foreign workers making up the vast bulk of private sector jobs in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf’s second-largest economy wants to boost opportunities for its own citizens.
The UAE — like other oil-rich Arab Gulf states — has often used the public sector as an employment vehicle for its nationals.
But times are changing, said 34-year-old Emirati researcher Khalifa al-Suwaidi, who has himself been looking for a private sector job since quitting a government post in June.
“We’ve reached a point where we have a diversity among Emiratis in terms of skill sets and expertise,” said Suwaidi. “The public sector can no longer accommodate many of those talents”.
Just 12 per cent of the country’s more than nine million residents are UAE nationals, with over 90pc of private sector jobs taken by foreigners, according to International Labour Organisation figures.
Suwaidi, author of a forthcoming book titled “UAE after the Arab Spring”, said he believed some employers overlooked his application because they presumed an Emirati would demand the high wages often paid in lucrative government posts.
“The private sector needs to be more accommodating,” he said. “I’ve been applying for jobs for a while to no avail.”
The government is now strong-arming private firms into hiring local talent, with the aim of ensuring Emiratis make up 10pc of the private sector workforce by 2026.
Next month, firms with more than 50 employees that fail to fill two per cent of their skilled jobs with Emiratis face being fined.
That has sparked a hiring drive, with recruiters noting a “flood of vacancies” from companies — many of which won’t be able to meet their targets.
“It’s going to be a tough run,” said Hamza Zaouali, the founder of recruitment agency Iris Executives, but noting it was “not possible” for the UAE government to keep growing and hiring.
“The more sustainable way is to make sure the economy continuously absorbs, trains and works with Emiratis,” Zaouali said. It is part of a wider trend, said Eman Alhussein, a non-resident fellow with the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
The UAE is joining “a larger push in the Gulf to change the dynamics of state-society relations” and wean citizens away from government jobs, she said.
“Gulf states want citizens to alter their expectations, give back to the state and accept jobs with longer hours and perhaps reduced income,” Alhussein said. In November, the UAE’s Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, Abdulrahman Al Awar, said that more than 14,000 Emiratis had entered the job market in 2022, with an average of 100 finding jobs each day.
The government also announced a salary support scheme that provides Emiratis in the private sector with up to AED 7,000 ($1,900) extra if monthly wages are less than AED 30,000.
There is no national minimum wage for Emiratis, but in Sharjah, one of the country’s seven emirates, they are entitled to a monthly minimum of AED 25,000.