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UAE DOESN'T WANT FOREIGNERS IN KEY JOBS

by Meena Janardhan

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(IPS) DUBAI -- A policy of replacing expatriate workers with nationals in key jobs is now well underway with the United Arab Emirates government compelling all major companies to hire only citizens as public relations officers (PROs) or cease business.

Since the February deadline, 1,500 nationals have been hired by big private companies (those with more than 100 employees) as PROs, as the first stage of the 'emiratization' policy.

"With one policy, the (labor) minister in 45 [working] days got more jobs for UAE nationals than Tanmia did in a year," said Humaid Bin Deemas, assistant labor undersecretary at the labor ministry, referring to the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority, which, last year, helped over 1,000 nationals find work.


Oil-rich but population-short UAE has depended heavily on expatriates for its development. Presently, out of a population of about four million, an overwhelming 3.3 million are non- nationals.

"More than 1,200 nationals now work as PROs, tasked with handling company transactions with government bodies. However, the ministry is wary about announcing the PRO policy a success, because of concerns that some companies have hired nationals on paper to avoid ministry penalties," Bin Deemas added.

In the UAE, PROs are tasked with getting labor permits issued, paying fines and renewing establishment cards. They work as a crucial link between companies and government departments.

Many companies were clearly displeased with the enforcement. "Nationals will never be willing to work for expatriate wages," said Mohammed Javed, a Pakistani businessman in Sharjah, ‘‘Most often, if they don't like the work, they'll quit, and we end up spending time and money training other people, and our work gets affected."

Labor minister Ali Bin Abdullah Al Ka'abi said in a press statement that soon it would be the turn of the human resources, secretarial and clerical sectors, "Tanmia is discussing emiratising the secretarial and clerical sectors, but the human resources sector is the next target."

Al Ka'abi, however, added that before announcing any concrete plans to emiratise human resources, he wanted to be sure of success in the PRO sector, "It's not just the question of numbers, we need to make sure UAE nationals are doing the job right."

The Arabic daily 'Al Khaleej' has reported that the secretarial sector is also expected to be emiratized soon and could offer up to 87,000 positions to nationals -- specific categories could include clerks and administrative assistants.

According to statistics released by Tanmia, there are at least 33,000 unemployed UAE nationals registered with the organization and that at least 15,000 national university graduates enter the job market every year.

Despite misgivings and negative reactions from companies, it is obvious that nationals have shown an interest since the announcement. "More than 1,450 nationals have begun working as PROs for 1,070 companies," Bin Deemas said. "Some 800 of those companies are in Dubai, which has conformed more than any other emirate. Another 1,630 companies have not been able to process their transactions at the ministry, because they have not abided with the ministerial directive."

"The use of nationals as PROs will ease daily tasks and lead to a smoother workflow since all staff will share the same language, and culture," said Col. Ali Mohammad Bujsaim, deputy director at the Dubai Naturalization and Residency Department adding, ‘‘It is a reasonable and logical step to nationalise this profession. It is the right of the new educated generation of nationals to enter the workplace productively, in their own country, and get any position that suits them."

Senior Arab PROs have, however, warned that managing the duties expected of them was not an easy task and that proper training is necessary for results and to avoid disillusionment.

Salem Al Mansouri, a Saudi PRO at a leading oil company in Dubai, said, "Our job does not just involve delivering applications and convincing authorities to issue visas. We are often the link between the authorities, companies and workers and have to learn to be diplomatic and aggressive at the same time. We also need to be very good with words and convincing in our arguments. Fresh graduates without at least two to three years training may not be able to cope with these requirements."

"The government should have allowed us to take on nationals as trainees and see if they suited the job and if they were willing to make a career out of this profession. That will help both the employer and the employee. This must be the criteria in any other sector too where the authorities intend to impose such regulations,"said Bujsaim.

Some entrants had misgivings too. "I took up this job as the last resort and because it is now available to us easily. It will take me at least a year, however, to get used to the job requirements and to see if it suits my interests and to prove myself. I have been offered a salary of 4,000 dirhams (around $1,095). It is a bit low, but something is better than nothing. But I am not sure if I will stick on -- if I get a better opening in any other profession then I may just grab that," said Zahraa Al Hamad, fresh out of college and eager to make a mark on her own.

"This attitude can cause us great losses," said Bujsaim. "If they quit after a few months at the job, then we incur losses both from the personnel and the financial angles. One company in Sharjah suffered great setbacks as the national it employed did not turn up to work after two months and failed to return l official documents in his possession."

"We are still in the first stages of the process. If we have to introduce contracts to make UAE nationals stay and ensure confidentiality, we'll do it," said Bin Deemas.

"We are not asking employers to sack their expatriate PROs as they are still needed to share the large amount of work with the various departments. We are only asking them to recruit nationals alongside. . Big companies will anyway need more than one PRO to prepare documents and deal with the different government departments and ministries," Bin Deemas said.



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Albion Monitor   March 9, 2006   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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