UNITED NATIONS, May 1 2019 (IPS) – The United Nations has estimated a hefty $466 billion as remittances from migrant workers worldwide in 2017—and perhaps even higher last year.
These remittances, primarily from the US, Western Europe and Gulf nations, go largely to low and middle-income countries, “helping to lift millions of families out of poverty,” says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
But most of these migrant workers are known to pay a heavy price, toiling mostly under conditions of slave labour: earning low wages, with no pensions or social security, and minimum health care.
As the United Nations commemorated Labour Day on May 1, the plight of migrant workers is one of the issues being pursued by the Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency which celebrates its centenary this year promoting social justice worldwide.
In a December 2018 report, the ILO said: “If the right policies are in place, labour migration can help countries respond to shifts in labour supply and demand, stimulate innovation and sustainable development, and transfer and update skills”.
However, a lack of international standards regarding concepts, definitions and methodologies for measuring labour migration data still needs to be addressed, it warned.
But much more daunting is the current state of the migrant labour market which has been riddled with blatant violations of all the norms of an ideal workplace.
Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam, a member of the UN Committee on Migrant Workers, told IPS rising populist nationalism world over is giving rise to rhetoric with unfounded allegations and irrational assessments of the worth of migrant workers to economies of many migrant receiving countries in the world.
Since migrant workers remain voiceless without voting or political rights in many such receiving countries, they are unable to mobilize political opinion to counter assertions against them, he said.
“And migrant workers are now being treated in some countries as commodities for import and export at will, not as humans with rights and responsibilities,” said Ambassador Kariyawasam, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations.
Unless these trends are reversed soon, he warned, not only human worth as a whole will diminish, but it can also lead to unexpected social upheavals affecting economic and social well-being of some communities in both sending and receiving countries of migrant workers.
At a UN press conference April 10, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said the ILO Centenary is a time to affirm with conviction that the mandate and standards set by the Organization remain of extraordinary importance and relevance to people everywhere.
He called for a future where labour is not a commodity, where decent work and the contribution of each person are valued, where all benefit from fair, safe and respectful workplaces free from violence and harassment, and in which wealth and prosperity benefit all.
Tara Carey, Senior Content & Media Relations Manager at Equality Now told IPS poverty and poor employment opportunities are a push factor for sex trafficking.
There are many cases in which women and girls in African countries are promised legitimate work and are then trafficked into prostitution. This happens within countries, across borders, and from Africa to places in Europe and the Middle East, she pointed out.
And recently, the police in Nigeria estimated 20,000 women and girls had been sold into sexual slavery in Mali:
“The new trend is that they told them they were taking them to Malaysia and they found themselves in Mali. They told them they would be working in five-star restaurants where they would be paid $700 per month.”
The number of migrants is estimated at over 240 million worldwide. And an increasingly large number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are home to most migrant workers from Asia.
In a background briefing during a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly in April, the ILO said conditions of work need to be improved for the roughly 300 million working poor – outside of migrant labour — who live on $1.90 a day.
Millions of men, women and children are victims of modern slavery. Too many still work excessively long hours and millions still die of work-related accidents every year.
“Wage growth has not kept pace with productivity growth and the share of national income going to workers has declined. Inequalities remain persistent around the world. Women continue to earn around 20 per cent less than men.”
“Even as growth has lessened inequality between countries, many of our societies are becoming more unequal. Millions of workers remain disenfranchised, deprived of fundamental rights and unable to make their voices heard”, according to the background briefing.
In its 2018 review of Human Rights in the Middle East & North Africa, the London-based Amnesty International (AI) said there were some positive developments at a legislative level in Morocco, Qatar and the UAE with respect to migrant labour and/or domestic workers.
But still migrant workers continued to face exploitation in these and other countries, including Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia, in large part due to kafala (sponsorship) systems, which limited their ability to escape abusive working conditions.
In Morocco, the parliament passed a new law on domestic workers, entitling domestic workers to written contracts, maximum working hours, guaranteed days off, paid vacations and a specified minimum wage.
Despite these gains, the new law still offered less protection to domestic workers than the Moroccan Labour Code, which does not refer to domestic workers, AI said.
In Qatar, a new law partially removed the exit permit requirement, allowing the vast majority of migrant workers covered by the Labour Law to leave the country without seeking their employers’ permission.
However, the law retained some exceptions, including the ability of employers to request exit permits for up to 5% of their workforce. Exit permits were still required for employees who fell outside the remit of the Labour Law, including over 174,000 domestic workers in Qatar and all those working in government entities.
In the UAE, the authorities introduced several labour reforms likely to be of particular benefit to migrant workers, including a decision to allow some workers to work for multiple employers, tighter regulation of recruitment processes for domestic workers and a new low-cost insurance policy that protected private sector employees’ workplace benefits in the event of job loss, redundancy or an employer’s bankruptcy, according to AI.
Meanwhile, as the ILO pointed out in a report in May 2017, current sponsorship regimes in the Middle East have been criticized for creating an asymmetrical power relationship between employers and migrant workers – which can make workers vulnerable to forced labour.
Essential to the vulnerability of migrant workers in the Middle East is that their sponsor controls a number of aspects related to their internal labour market mobility – including their entry, renewal of stay, termination of employment, transfer of employment, and, in some cases, exit from the country, the report noted.
Such arrangements place a high responsibility – and often a burden – on employers. To address these concerns, alternative modalities can be pursued which place the role of regulation and protection more clearly with the government.
This report demonstrates that reform to the current sponsorship arrangements that govern temporary labour migration in the Middle East will have wide-ranging benefits – from improving working conditions and better meeting the needs of employers, to boosting the economy and labour market productivity.
Meanwhile, in its ”Century Ratification Campaign”, ILO has invited its 187 member States to ratify at least one international labour Convention in the course of 2019, with a commitment to apply a set of standards governing one aspect of decent work to all men and women, along with one political commitment supporting sustainable development for all.
Growth in Saudi Arabia’s economy will slow slightly this year, creating a challenge in terms of generating enough jobs for its citizens, an economist has told Zawya.
A new Economic Insight: Middle East Q1 2019 report published by accountancy body ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) and Oxford Economics said that it expects economic growth in the Kingdom to slow marginally in 2019 to 2 percent, down from 2.2 percent in 2019 as oil revenue falls due to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries-mandated production cuts and “only a modest acceleration in non-oil activity” due to the challenging business environment.
The report said that although it expects growth in Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector to grow by 2.6 percent this year, supported both by an expansionary fiscal policy and reforms aimed at boosting the private sector, hiring activity remains “subdued”.
Mohamed Bardastani, ICAEW economic advisor and Middle East senior economist at Oxford Economics, told Zawya in a telephone interview that the jobs market in Saudi Arabia has been “extremely challenging, and we don’t see it changing any time this year”.
He explained that that in the two years between the end of 2016 and the end of last year, the country’s Labour Force Survey showed that more than 1.5 million jobs were lost among expats – a result of “the economic slowdown, various fiscal consolidation measures, but most importantly the measures that the government took in terms of applying expat levies and expat dependent fees on private sector companies”, Bardastani said.
“The private sector, historically speaking, has been relying on expat workers. Around 80 percent of the private sector is made up of expat workers. So obviously, this will have ramifications on growth,” he said.
Moreover, unemployment among Saudi nationals remains stubbornly high at 12.7 percent, considerably above the 7 percent target set under the kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals.
“Historically speaking, the public sector most of the time absorbed the new job entrants. This is one of the main challenges in Saudi right now. I think it is the most pressing challenge, where you have around a 12-7-12.8 (percent) unemployment rate and you have around 400,000 graduates (each year), and then job creation is relatively weak,” he said.
Bardastani said that the government faces a difficult choice, “between either absorbing those new job market entrants and increasing its spending, which will lead to higher budget deficits” or continuing to push through reforms in the expectation that they create enough opportunities for private sector companies to generate jobs.
“I think, for sure, that’s going to take some time,” he said.
The survey also stated that it expects faster non-oil growth in the United Arab Emirates, but again a limited increase in employment opportunities.
Growth in the non-oil economy is set to increase to 2.1 percent this year, up from 1.3 percent in 2018, on the back of expansionary budgets and “pro-growth government initiatives”, such as the 50 billion dirham ($13.6 billion) ‘Ghadan 21’ initiative in Abu Dhabi, but job creation has slowed in key sectors, including services and manufacturing.
Bardastani said firms that have seen input costs rising have been unable to increase selling prices due to competitive pressures.
“So you have this squeeze in profitability margins. Many firms are becoming more efficient in terms of producing the output – they have to do more with less resources. That’s why job creation has been weak.”
A jobs survey also published on Wednesday by recruitment firm Michael Page was more upbeat on the prospects for Saudi jobseekers, stating that 64 percent of respondents were positive about the current job market in the kingdom. It also said 86 percent of respondents said that they expect the jobs market in Saudi Arabia to improve over the next six months.
In a press release announcing the survey results, Michael Page Saudi Arabia’s operating director, Domenic Falzarano, said: “Given the kingdom’s commitment to its Vision 2030, the bulk of the hiring is taking place in the financial services, infrastructure, entertainment, tourism and healthcare sectors.”
(Reporting by Michael Fahy; Editing by Mily Chakrabarty)
For purposes of mainly Invigorating Female Entrepreneurship in Egypt’s ecosystem, a “SHE CAN – 2019” organized by Entreprenelle, kickstarted by Rania Ayman in 2015 as an organization eventing conferences as a mean to empower and motivate women so as help them believe in their ability to change their destiny.
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SHE CAN 2019, a conference dedicated to MENA women entrepreneurs, hosted its third annual edition at the Greek campus, Downtown Cairo, Egypt, with the theme ‘Successful Failures’. Launched by Entreprenelle, an Egypt-based social enterprise which aims to economically empower women through awareness, education and access to resources, the conference held a wide range of panel discussions, talks and workshops on innovative thinking, creativity, technology, raising capital and invigorating female entrepreneurship in the ecosystem.
Gathering more than 5,000 participants and 50 partners, including UN Women, the Swedish Embassy, the National Council for Women, Nahdet Masr, Avon, Orange and Export Development Bank of Egypt, it also highlighted the endeavors of Entrepenelle alumni. It was also an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn from sessions featuring tips on pitching business ideas, mentorship, as well as startup competitions. Female-founded startups were also able to showcase their products and services in an exhibition area.
Speaking about the conference focusing on the necessity to experience failure on one’s entrepreneurial path, Dorothy Shea, Deputy Ambassador of the US Embassy in Cairo, commented, “As far as I’m concerenced, the sky is the limit. Women should be able to achieve whatever their dreams are. What I was struck by was this idea of “successful failures,” we need to not fear failure, it’s not a destination, it is a stepping stone to success. Sometimes there can be a fear of failure, but as part of this entrepreneurship ecosystem, they are really trying to move that inhibition away. We learn from our failures and then we take our plans to the next level. I was really inspired by this theme.”
Founded in 2015, Entreprenelle has more than 10 entrepreneurship programs conducted in nine governorates, including Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura, Minya, Assiut, Sohag and Aswan.
For a number of years now, the provision of languages in British schools and universities has been in decline. Yet, as Brexit looms largely on the horizon, there has been much talk in the media and from politicians about the need for a “global Britain”.
Arguably, a country can only really be global and outward looking if language skills are considered essential for its citizens. The government seems to share this view – at least to some extent. This is reflected in the fact that the Department of Education has provided funding to open a National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy and to roll out a cross-sector mentoring project, which was piloted very successfully in Wales.
A number of surveys, such as the annual British Council survey of English primary and secondary schools, reports on the falling numbers of pupils participating in language learning. This is a decline that started in 2004, when languages were taken out of the compulsory curriculum in secondary schools.
There was a rise in the number of pupils taking languages in 2011 as a result of the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBACC) – which has a language as a core subject. However, this increase proved to be shortlived, despite the government’s ambition for 90% of pupils to gain the EBACC by 2025.
In 2014, the Guardian commissioned a survey which questioned young people about learning languages. The survey identified some of the main benefits people perceive to be linked to learning languages. This includes: better job prospects abroad, talking to other people, learning about another culture, learning another skill, and incentive to travel.
On the other hand, perceived downsides were seen as languages being difficult, the predominance of English, and that the way languages are taught in schools is “not useful in real life”.
To find out more about why young people choose (not) to study a language, we surveyed 107 students that were studying a language at Lancaster University or the University of Nottingham. This includes students who studied a language as an optional module to complement their main degree course, as well as those who studied a language as part of their degree.
Our survey showed that for the vast majority of these degree students (over 90%) and students taking optional modules (over 75%) their main motivation was enjoyment as well as a genuine interest in the language and the countries where it is spoken. This aspect ranks much higher than “employability skills” – despite this often being the main angle under which languages are promoted.
Students do, however, realise and appreciate the broad range of transferable skills gained from studying languages. This includes analytical and problem solving skills, the ability to communicate well (also in your first language), and committing yourself to a long-term project.
When asked what might put young people off studying a language and why they think there are not more language learners in the UK, many referred to the lack of engagement with cultural aspects – such as history, politics, society or literature – in language classes. They also spoke of the myth of English being the only language you need, poor handling of languages in the British education system, and the lack of governmental initiatives to promote the study of languages.
To get more people excited about languages then, there needs to be a rethink of the way in which they are promoted and embedded into the curriculum. And there must be more focus on enjoyment and intercultural competence and more cultural engagement and “real-life” tasks.
This is important, because studying a language is not just about enhancing your CV and adding something useful to your skills set. It is also about embracing other cultures, developing intercultural competence, enjoying languages as an exciting object of study, and reflecting on your own national and cultural identity.
The government should also recognise the importance of languages and rethink the value placed on foreign language competency in the British education system. A national policy on languages could help to address attitudes towards languages and further promote joined up thinking across the different education sectors.
Migrant or expatriate workers continue adding to the labour force of oil-rich Gulf due to mega-construction projects, UN data shows. Al Jazeera posted this article dated 20 Dec 2018 elaborating on a situation known to all since the advent of oil.
Blue-collar migrant workers continue adding to the
labour force of the oil-rich Gulf, skewing long-standing efforts by its leaders
to increase the percentage of its own citizens in the workforce, data of the
UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) shows.
Figures released this month in a 78-page study, ILO
Global Estimates on National Migrant Workers, showed that the proportion of
migrants in the eastern Arab region’s workforce ballooned by 5.2 percent from
2013 to 2017, mostly in the construction sector.
Migrants now make up 40.8 percent of the workforce
across a 12-nation region that includes the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
This is a much higher proportion than other rich
regions that attract some of the world’s estimated 164 million migrant workers.
In comparison, migrants make up only 20.6 percent of the labour force in North
America, and 17.8 percent in Europe.
In Dubai, Doha and other Gulf
boomtowns, foreigners make up as much as 90 percent of workers, according to
older figures. The ILO did not have data on separate countries for this month’s
report; Ryszard Cholewinski, the ILO’s Beirut-based expert on migrant
workers, said that figures provided by Gulf governments are often
The increase in labour flows to Gulf states these past five years was driven mainly by mega-construction projects, including pavilions for Expo 2020 Dubai and the FIFA World Cup 2022 stadiums being built across Qatar, said Cholewinski.
Demand has also grown for maids, gardeners, drivers
and other domestic staff, he added. In particular, more foreign carers are
being hired to look after a growing number of elderly folks in their homes, as
the Gulf population ages.
“The demand for male workers in the Arab
states explains the sharp increase in the share of migrant workers in this
region. Many of these workers are manual labourers, located mostly in the
construction sector,” Natalia Popova, an ILO labour economist, told Al
“Possible other reasons for the increase in
the high share of migrant workers may include the increasing demand for
domestic workers, both male and female, as well as for migrant workers in the
While data on nationalisation efforts is skewed due
to the sheer amount of blue-collar migrants, Gulf leaders have long sought to
boost the numbers of their working citizens, mainly in the white-collar workforce.
However, state-led hiring drives, with
such names as Qatarisation, Emiratisation and Saudisation, have had only
limited success, particularly in the private sector, according to the ILO.
“Many of these nationalisation policies are
not really having any impact. It’s one of the region’s big challenges,”
Cholewinski told Al Jazeera.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric on nationalisation in for example Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda. But in practice, this is
going extremely slowly.”
Al Jazeera contacted the UN missions of all six
Gulf states by email and telephone over the course of several days, but was not
able to get a comment on this issue.
While each Gulf nation faces different challenges
when it comes to nationalisation, many Gulf citizens loathe taking jobs in
private companies, which cannot compete with the pension plans, generous holidays
and shorter working hours in the cushy jobs-for-life enjoyed by civil servants.
This can lead to odd distortions. A visitor to
Dubai, the UAE’s tourism hub, can spend their whole week-long vacation being
served by migrant workers in shops, taxis and eateries, and the only Emirati
they meet is a passport-stamping immigration clerk at the airport.
Last month, the UAE launched it’s so-called Citizen
Redistribution Policy to temporarily shift civil servants into private sector
jobs. It also rolled out training schemes for Emiratis and online recruitment
In recent months, Riyadh has introduced rules
requiring shops to have Saudis in at least 70 percent of sales jobs. Expat
workers pay monthly fees for their spouses and children, employers pay similar
penalties for foreign employees.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin
Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030 agenda aims to overhaul the Saudi economy by
massively expanding the healthcare, education, recreation and tourism sectors
and slash the high unemployment rates for young Saudis.
John Shenton, chairman of the Chartered Institute
of Building’s Novus initiative, which supports construction jobs in Dubai, told
Al Jazeera that Gulf nationalisation schemes were bearing fruit.
In some state-regulated sectors, such as banking,
legal and financial services, the number of local staff has grown, Shenton
said. “If the goal is to get more Emiratis in the workforce then it’s
having some effect,” said Shenton. “However there are other factors
that will mean that those efforts may not be reflected in the data.”
These gains are dwarfed by the mass-recruitment of
foreign construction workers to build the skyscrapers, malls and artificial
islands for which the region is famous, he added.
“At a site level, the chaps in safety boots
and hard hats will always be from the subcontinent or South Asia,” Shenton
“At the engineering and supervisory level, the
skill set required can’t be satisfied by the number of local graduates. The
volume of work being undertaken and the discreet programme dates associated
with projects like Qatar 2022 necessitate our hosts resourcing from
Melissa Roza, a headhunter at a Dubai-based
recruitment firm, said nationalisation schemes had made gains in some
white-collar jobs, but that state-set hiring quotas and penalty fees were also
hurting these sectors.
Banks in the UAE often prefer to pay fines for
hiring foreigners than to cover the recruitment costs involved in hiring an
Emirati, training them up and meeting their high salary expectations, she said.
Executives have also found workarounds by hiring
migrants via outsourcing firms, which do not affect the quota count, added
Roza, whose name was changed so she could talk frankly on a hot-button
The UAE has been ranked as the top country in the
Middle East and North Africa for wage equality, according to a new report
released by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
However, the UAE’s performance on the WEF’s Global
Gender Gap Report 2018’s wage equality indicator saw a slight decrease
compared to last year, a statement said.
The Emirates also topped the region in terms of the
number of women in ministerial positions, with improvements recorded in gender
parity in the legislators, senior officials and managers and healthy life
Overall, the report found that despite the gender
gap across the MENA region closing narrowly in 2018, it remains the world’s
least gender-equal region.
It will take the Middle East and North Africa
economies “153 years to close the gender gap at the current rate of change”, the report stated.
While Tunisia topped the region for gender equality
– ranking 119 globally, the UAE ranked 121 with the gender gap closed at 64.2
per cent. Saudi Arabia, ranked 141 with a 59 per cent gender gap rate, showed
“modest progress”, with improvement in wage equality and women’s labour force
participation, the report stated.
Globally, the report found that the global gender
gap only slightly reduced in 2018, as stagnation in the proportion of women in
the workplace and women’s declining representation in politics, along with
greater inequality in access to health and education, offset improvements in
wage equality and the number of women in professional positions.
According to the report, the world has closed 68
per cent of its gender gap, as measured across four key pillars: economic
opportunity; political empowerment; educational attainment; and health and survival.
Last year was the first since the report began
publishing in 2006 that the gap between men and women widened.
At the current rate of change, the report indicated
that it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap and 202 years to
bring about parity in the workplace.
Globally, having closed more than 85.8 per cent of
its overall gender gap, Iceland topped the list for the 10th
consecutive year. It was followed by Norway, Sweden, Finland and Nicaragua.
“The economies that will succeed in the Fourth
Industrial Revolution will be those that are best able to harness all their
available talent,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the
“Proactive measures that support gender parity and
social inclusion and address historical imbalances are therefore essential for
the health of the global economy as well as for the good of society as a
The report also found that while the income gap
between men and women has become narrower, fewer women are participating in the
“This a worrisome development for which there are a
number of potential reasons,” the report said.
“One is that automation is having a
disproportionate impact on roles traditionally performed by women. At the same
time, women are under-represented in growing areas of employment that require
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and knowledge.
Another potential reason is that the infrastructure needed to help women enter
or re-enter the workforce – such as childcare and eldercare – is
under-developed and unpaid work remains primarily the responsibility of women,”
the report explained.
“The corollary is that the substantial investments
made by many economies to close the education gap are failing to generate
optimal returns in the form of growth.”
According to Saadia Zahidi, head of the Centre for
the New Economy and Society and member of the WEF managing board, industries
must “proactively hardwire gender parity in the future of work through
effective training, reskilling and upskilling interventions and tangible job
“It’s in their long-term interest because diverse
businesses perform better,” she added.