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More Flexibility For Workers a Possibility in GCC

Middle East : 12 October 2010

Foreign workers are still attracted to the GCC nations, where more flexibility and mobility between the countries are being considered.

Experts also note that the GCC is in the process of developing a new vision for their workforce.  Regulations over the next few decades will stretch out to include more national workers, women and foreigners with diverse skills.

Maurizio Bussi, the Deputy Regional Director at the ILO (International Labour Organization) in the Regional Office for Arab States noted that the nations are recognizing the need to add flexibility and allow the labourers to move freely within the GCC region.

Bussi stated that although it is not happening yet, talks are moving forward and the interest is there.

These mobility changes are beneficial from the ILO’s viewpoint and would translate into cost savings for the businesses.  Hiring would be more cost effective and efficiency would increase when employers are able to retain qualified, experienced staff.

Bussi admitted that the government might have more challenges during implementation.  Most of the GCC nations believe that greater mobility will encourage foreign workers to remain in the region for an extended time.  There needs to be compromise to make these changes work.

Currently, when a foreign labourer changes workplaces within the same nation he faces a host of restrictions involving the necessary skills for and nature of the position.

Current regulations in Bahrain allow unskilled or even semi-skilled workers to move to another employer if their pay has not been released for an extended period of time.  Similar regulations are possible in Kuwait.

The UAE introduced a brand new initiative in 2009 to protect wages.  The UAE Central Bank was in charge of the development of this electronic payment system that works to preserve the wages of workers.

Wages are deposited directly into accounts through licensed banks and are also monitored with government regulations to ensure payments are made on time and with the correct deductions.

A similar system is in the works for Qatar.  It was reported in the local media that Qatari businesses are facing pressure to switch to direct salary payments and ensure a quick, regular pay schedule.  Those employees who have not received their wages can be pinpointed swiftly and the necessary procedures taken from there.

The ILO had high praises for the progress made in the UAE, which goes a long way to secure the rights of foreign workers, specifically the sector of blue-collar labourers that make up nearly 50 percent of the 4.2 million total expat workers in the nation.

Bussi noted that key labour rights are now protected, including salaries, accommodations and working hours.

When speaking of accommodations, Bussi stated that the Al Raha complex on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi is a good model, having the capacity to handle almost 30,000 workers (both skilled and semi-skilled) that are based mainly in the construction sector.

Almost two million residents are employed in the economic sector. Bussi also stated that there is a possibility of an end-of-service payment being established with funds controlled by the nation’s government.

By using the government, employees are assured the funds will be used and administered in the appropriate way.  This system will also ensure the dignity of a worker returning to their home country.  The government sees this entire system as a win-win, delivering credibility, distributing funds as they are earned and offering a guarantee to workers in the GCC.

A conference around the subject of salaries is being held in Dubai this week.  How wages are determined, the fluctuations of salaries and which positions and professions will be included are all topics up for discussion.

The 10 to 15 year vision and goal of the government is to have an organized labour market that sees more nationals in the private sector, more women in the workforce and a wider diversification of skills within the market.

Even though the unemployment rate in the GCC region is lower than those found in the balance of the Arab world, it is posing social and economic difficulties mainly due to the GCC region’s wealth and attraction to foreign workers.

The GCC citizens are being encouraged to obtain new skills, branch out into different fields and get the necessary experience to compete.

There were close to 14 million unemployed Arabs at the end of 2008, which translates into a rate of 14.37 per cent based on the ALO’s (Arab Labour Organization) data.

Kuwait had the lowest unemployment rate at 1.33 per cent, while Qatar’s sits at 2.4 per cent and the jobless rate in the UAE is only 3.2 per cent.  Bahrain has unemployment of about 4 per cent, Saudi Arabia saw 5.63 per cent joblessness and Oman experienced 6.7 per cent.

Bussi noted that labour issues are best handled with accurate statistics, which may be difficult to come by.  Quoting a 19th century statesman from Britain, Bussi said that there are three types of lies found in the world: big lies; small lies; and statistics.

Paul Holdsworth, Staff Writer, Gulf Jobs Market News
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