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
Carol Dweck is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology at Stanford University and the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2007, Ballantine Books). Over 30 years ago, Dr. Dweck and her colleagues became interested in students’ attitudes about failure. They noticed that some students rebounded while other students seemed devastated by even the smallest setbacks. Dr. Dweck’s growth mindset explained here is the result of studying the behavior of thousands of children.
Dr. Dweck coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.
In an Harvard Business Review piece Carol Dweck explains that “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning. When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation. In contrast, people at primarily fixed-mindset companies report more of only one thing: cheating and deception among employees, presumably to gain an advantage in the talent race.”
This basically means that in life, every individual who believes that their intelligence or abilities could be developed (a growth mindset) will outperform those who believed that their abilities or their intelligence is fixed (a fixed mindset). This theory is developed in Dweck’s book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In the book, Dweck shows many exemples of people or companies having a growth or fixed mindset. She also that having a growth mindset is not only a question of making efforts but also of try new strategies and seeking input from others when one is stuck or unsuccessful. Everyone needs a repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve. According to Dweck, it is not about “Great effort! You tried your best!” but rather about “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.” (Carol Dweck, Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’, Education Week, September 22, 2015).
For Dweck, it is hard work but a useful exercise. Indeed, “individuals and organizations can gain a lot by deepening their understanding of growth-mindset concepts and the processes for putting them into practice. It gives them a richer sense of who they are, what they stand for, and how they want to move forward.”
Markaz of Brookings Doha Center published this article written by Firas Masri, Research Assistant at the Doha Center, on February 6th, 2017, so as to make a clear point with regards to women generally not only of the GCC countries but possibly of the wider region of the MENA countries. These do indeed share the cultual, cultural and historical background that for centuries bore on all beings, particularly women of all ages and social backgrounds. According to FS_Masri, employment of women would not impinge on that of the men but could also help the economies of those countries; she does make a point that preoccupied many and notably the European Union. It said in its study that examined the economic, political and socio-cultural changes which have affected the situation of women in the Gulf region over the last decades by focusing on women’s rights and gender equality in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and provided a socio-cultural, political and economic analysis of women’s situation in the Gulf region. Firas Masri in her essay looks at more recent trends and gives us an outlook that is not different from that of the EU’s. So, is it Women at the rescue of the MENA Economies ?
Governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continue to search for ways to repair their fragile economies. For some countries in the region, experts wonder whether high unemployment and poor economic growth could precipitate another round of political upheaval, similar to the uprisings in early 2011.
Despite this ominous scenario, there is one strategy that MENA governments persistently overlook to ease economic pressures: increasing female employment, a topic that Bessma Momani explores in a recent Brookings policy brief. Momani explains that the lack of female representation in MENA workforces limits economic growth in the region. She also argues that government policies encouraging greater female participation in the workforce will have a host of other economic and social benefits, in addition to boosting GDP. Furthermore, Momani contends: “introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries generate prosperity—as well as the normative and social imperative of change.”
Unfortunately, as Momani outlines, several barriers impede women in MENA from joining the labor force. In order to counter this, in her view, MENA governments should conduct gender impact studies for regional policymakers to understand how policies shape cultural attitudes toward gender. MENA governments manage primary and secondary school curricula, which studies have shown contain direct and indirect gender biases in the national education curriculum. Momani’s research shows that such gender impact studies could expose the types of gendered language used in textbooks that help reinforce male-dominated workforces in the region. Government-sponsored internships allocated for women could overcome stereotypes in industries previously gendered as masculine, she adds.
Other factors that prevent women from entering the workforce in MENA countries include the following: low salaries, early retirement, underwhelming job benefits, difficulty securing capital for entrepreneurial ventures, and harassment in public spaces. By addressing these concerns in the short-term, Momani argues that regional governments will lay the foundation for economic prosperity in the long-term. Regional policymakers face an enormous challenge if they address these issues simultaneously. Nevertheless, with many economies in the region facing a grim outlook for 2017, she contends that it would behoove them to seriously consider policies that encourage more women to join the workforce.
Women’s full employment in MENA could increase household incomes by as much as 25 percent:
According to a World Bank report, “women’s employment can significantly improve household income—by as much as 25 percent—and lead many families out of poverty.” It continues that increased household income will not only positively impact MENA economies on the micro level, but it will bolster economies on the macro level as well. The IMF supports this claim by noting that from 2000 to 2011, the region
“could have gained $1 trillion in cumulative output (equivalent to doubling average real GDP growth during the past decade) if female labor force participation had been raised enough to narrow the gender gap from triple to double the average for other emerging market and developing countries.”
Momani’s new research indicates that such predictions remain relevant today.
Higher female employment rates could reduce poverty due to lower birth rates and improvements in child welfare:
As Momani further discusses, echoing other researchers, greater economic opportunity for women could contribute to reducing poverty. Research by the National Institutes of Health, for one, has shown that financially independent women demonstrate a greater ability to support their children, which greatly improves child welfare. Momani points to studies showing that women in the beginning stages of their careers—especially younger women, who make family planning decisions later in life—tend to have fewer and healthier children, as well as higher earnings, which can reduce poverty rates among youth.
Women-led households save more money:
Momani’s brief illuminates that as working women gain financial independence—and in some cases become the breadwinner of the family—they can gain more decisionmaking power in the family. As one gender equality study she cites argues: “Women’s propensity to save is greater than men’s, and women’s consumption focuses to a greater extent on the children and on household necessities.” As another report shows, this change in the household dynamic will also boost regional economic growth in the short-term, which will lead to sustainable economic development in the long term.
Even in households where financial responsibilities are shared equally among men and women, a cross-country panel study of semi-industrialized nations found “that an increase in women’s wage share relative to men is associated with increase in the domestic savings rate.” Whether women take sole responsibility of household financial matters or share this responsibility with their spouse, the benefits of this development will make families in MENA more fiscally secure, Momani shows.
If women were employed at the same rate as men, they would contribute $2.7 trillion to regional GDP by 2025, a 47 percent increase:
According to a McKinsey report, if MENA countries close the gender gap in the labor force, the region could see an additional $2.7 trillion added to MENA countries’ GDP by 2025. Momani concludes that Arab countries must overcome numerous cultural and societal challenges to stimulate increased female participation in the labor force, but by initiating policy changes that encourage a shift in this dynamic, MENA countries will find themselves more financially secure in the future.
From time immemorial, transhumance of one shape or another, in the Middle East, has been a common fact of life and still is to this day. Trump’s strategy on Immigration from the MENA is these days not exactly that different from those known throughout the region’s History.
In effect, the region’s history as beautifully introduced by Lonely Planet goes like this:
Although rock art dating back to 10,000 BC lies hidden amid the desert monoliths of the Jebel Acacus in Libya, little is known about the painters or their nomadic societies, which lived on the outermost rim of the Middle East.
The enduring shift from nomadism to more-sedentary organised societies began in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) and the Nile River Valley of Ancient Egypt.
In about 5000 BC a culture known as Al-Ubaid first appeared in Mesopotamia. We known little about it except that its influence eventually spread down what is now the coast of the Gulf. Stone-Age artefacts have also been found in Egypt‘s Western Desert, Israel‘s Negev Desert and in the West Bank town of Jericho.
Sometime around 3100 BC the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt were unified under Menes, ushering in 3000 years of Pharaonic rule in the Nile Valley. The Levant (present-day Lebanon, Syria and Israel and the Palestinian Territories) was well settled by this time, and local powers included the Amorites and the Canaanites. In Mesopotamia it was the era of Sumer, which had arisen in around 4000 BC and became arguably the world’s first great civilisation. [ . . .] Read more:http://www.lonelyplanet.com/middle-east/history#ixzz4XQcYAQ5a
This article of The Conversation of January 31, 2017 written by Gerasimos Tsourapas, Lecturer in Middle East Politics, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham draws a fair picture of the present state of affairs and concludes that indeed:
Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon protest against the war in Yemen in October 2016. Nabil Mounzer/EPA
It is easy to ascribe Donald Trump’s recent policy decisions on immigration to his temperament. The US president’s executive order temporarily halting the country’s refugee programme and suspending visas for citizens of seven, Muslim-majority countries, are in line with his xenophobic rhetoric on the campaign trail.
The pressure on Mexico to finance the construction of a wall on the US-Mexican border is also a direct follow-up to his vitriolic statements on “bad hombres”.
But the history of Middle Eastern politics teaches us to approach immigration policies less as consequences of elites’ personalities, and more as instruments in the quest for political power. Both Trump’s policy on Mexico and his recent executive orders are reminiscent of measures adopted by Middle Eastern elites as bilateral strategies of coercion.
Remittance and visa restrictions
In early 2016, Saudi Arabia threatened to impose limits on the amount of money Lebanese migrants could send back home as a way of pressuring Lebanon into clamping down on Hezbollah. The Saudis, and other Gulf states, having declared Hezbollah a terrorist organisation in March 2016, realised that they possessed an effective, and relatively cost-free, mechanism of exerting pressure on Lebanon, which relies on migration to the Gulf Cooperation Council states for 70% of its remittance income.
Muammar Gaddafi used migration controls as part of his geopolitical strategy. Mohamed Messara/EPA
A few decades ago, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi would frequently implement – or threaten to implement – controls on Egyptian workers’ remittances as a way of putting pressure on the Egyptian government. When Egyptian president Anwar Sadat announced the creation of a Unified Political Command with Syria and Sudan in 1977, Gaddafi announced that “Sadat, in his behaviour, intends to oblige us” to act against Egyptians. Libya duly ceased the issuance of new work visas as authorities expelled thousands of Egyptian workers.
If this strategy sounds familiar, it is because it featured prominently in Trump’s presidential campaign agenda. In March 2016, Trump sent a two-page memo to the Washington Post detailing how he would threaten to halt illegal migrants’ money transfers to Mexico unless the country paid for the construction of the wall. “It’s an easy decision for Mexico,” Trump wrote. “Make a one-time payment of US$5-$10 billion to ensure that US$24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.”
Deportations, Saudi style
Beyond remittance and migration restrictions, Middle East elites have also used deportation as a strategy of coercion amid neighbourhood tension. When Yemen failed to denounce the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait at the UN Security Council (where it was a non-permanent member) in September 1990, Saudi Arabia expelled around 800,000 Yemenis over the following two months. Other Arab states followed Saudi’s example and deported more Yemenis. The domestic upheaval that ensued in Yemen and the collapse of migrant remittances had destabilising effects that paved the way for the 1994 Yemeni Civil War.
Trump’s executive order barring entry to citizen from seven Musim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen – needs to be understood through the lens of the US administration’s immigration strategy. This will undoubtedly become much clearer in the new few weeks, but the Washington Post has already identified how the ban excludes any country where the Trump Organisation has business interests. Though it’s worth pointing out that the seven countries were initially singled out for extra visa checks during the Obama administration.
Beyond the human cost involved in the use of immigration policy as a geopolitical strategy, the US administration should keep in mind a second lesson from the Middle East experience: target states often devise a retaliatory strategy. This may involve countermeasures or, in the case of Egypt and Libya, a border war in 1977. Iran has already declared it would ban entry to US citizens in response to Trump’s actions, while the New York Times has begun talking of the making of a trade war with China. Not surprisingly, the number of voices criticising Trump’s strategy as bad foreign policy is increasing daily.
Disclosure statement : Gerasimos Tsourapas does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members.
Stabilisation of the MENA with Governance or lack of it becoming more and more of a world problem that does not seem to diminish overtime but on the contrary, increase the world leadership worries to the point where nowadays, solutions are gradually pointing to the real source of all the current troubles, e.g. governance. Everyone however knew sometime back that the trends in demographics, economics, internal security and justice systems and social change would invariably lead towards how much governance, could affect the whole region together with each and every nation. Today’s situation would illustrate the critical role of governance, social change, and justice systems in dealing with each nation’s specific problems. Here is a Brookings article on the subject of governance that sadly seem to be the common denominator of all the countries of the MENA.
Yesterday, I released a new report on the future of governance in Arab states.
This may seem like an inapt, or even irrelevant, moment to argue for the imperative of improving governance in the Middle East. After all, the region is facing unprecedented turmoil: civil wars that have displaced millions of people and killed more than half a million; vicious extremist movements that massacre civilians, conduct terrorist attacks, and oppress those under its rule; and, of course, the United States and its allies are now invested in a new war in Iraq and Syria fighting ISIS.
I just came back from the Halifax International Security Forum and the only discussion of the Middle East there was framed around terrorism, ISIS, civil war, and refugees. Those are the urgent problems that are seen by many governments around the world as a threat to international security, and that are driving global attention to the region.
But ISIS and civil wars are symptoms of a broader deterioration in the region—they are not the disease. Beginning in 2011, the Middle East endured the breakdown both of states, and of a state system that had lasted for about the prior half-century. That old Middle Eastern state system had advantaged American interests and those of U.S. regional partners, and the United States defended it resolutely. That order is now gone, and the region is in turmoil. The breakdown of that old order is what led to the civil wars in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, and what enabled the rise of ISIS.
We need to understand why and how the Middle East broke down in order to effectively deal with the urgent security challenges that this breakdown generated, and how to return stability to the region. Otherwise, as my colleague General John Allen has noted, the war on terrorism will never be won—instead, we will be fighting ISIS 2.0 and ISIS 3.0 on and on into the future.
In the new report, I argue that the regional breakdown transpired primarily because of failures of governance. The paper analyzes the “how” and “why” of those failures in order to illuminate the future of stable governance in this disordered region, and to suggest policies that the United States and others might pursue to achieve what this paper calls “real security.”
THREE FACTS ABOUT THE MIDDLE EAST’S DISORDER:
1) The regional order did not break down primarily because of external invasions, or top-down decisions, but because of forces within states and societies, pressures that built up over many years. I told part of the story of this breakdown in my 2008 book, “Freedom’s Unsteady March“: the story of how the bureaucratic authoritarian model in the Arab world began to weaken—how the clientelism, the ideology, and the coercion on which these states relied to survive became less and less effective in a globalized world.
The Arab states of the last half-century rested on a particular social contract: a patronage system in which citizens gave their consent to the regime, and in exchange the regime provided all kinds of economic and social goods to people.
The Arab states of the last half-century rested on a particular social contract: a patronage system in which citizens gave their consent to the regime, and in exchange the regime provided all kinds of economic and social goods to people: not just security but healthcare, education, social services, and jobs. In Egypt, for many years, the government promised all university graduates a civil service job, which was essentially a lifetime sinecure. An Egyptian friend of mine, who spent many decades working for a state-owned newspaper, described to me that on Fridays he used to come to work with a plastic bag because the newspaper used to give each of the workers in his office a chicken to take home for dinner. That was the corporatist state, the old social contract in action.
Over time, these inefficient patronage systems became especially challenged by the emergence of three major forces: a massive demographic bulge of young people on the cusp of adulthood; the penetration of a globalized economy; and a radically new information environment generated first by satellite television and then by the internet and mobile technology.
As a result of these three forces, states became not just inefficient, but increasingly ineffective, at providing the goods that citizens expected. And so by the early 2000s, those Egyptian university graduates had to wait to get their promised government job for an average of eight years. Young Egyptians spent eight years driving taxis or pushing food carts while waiting for that job to come at last. And when you are young, in a traditional society, and you have no permanent job, you can’t afford to get your own apartment, you can’t get married—in other words, you can’t become a fully adult person—you remain stuck.
2) Previous efforts to reform the social contract often made things worse, not better. It’s crucial to realize that no one, in the run-up to the Arab uprisings of 2011, was unaware of these problems. In the 1990s and 2000s, many in government, the private sector, and civil society, both in the region and in the West, were talking about the need for “reform.” The Europeans had the Barcelona Process, the United States had the Freedom Agenda.
But when Arab governments attempted to adjust the social contract in their nations in order to accommodate the impact of globalization and the rise of youth, they did not develop a more inclusive social contract that could establish a solid and lasting ruling coalition. Instead, they negotiated adjustments with political and economic elites. They made reform commitments to the World Bank and the IMF. They sold off state assets to those with access and wealth. They reduced government hiring without freeing up the private sector for real growth. They brought new business cronies into ruling parties instead of opening up politics to wider participation. The resulting adjustments further empowered select groups while further excluding others, exacerbated inequality, increased state capture by elites, and thus generated more and more widely held grievances against these regimes.
Consequently, discontent and protest increased, and the forces of globalization and technology meant that governments were less able to use patronage and ideology to keep people in line. Left with few effective tools, Arab governments saw increased expressions of dissent and fell back on coercion to suppress them. And this breakdown in the social contract between ruler and ruled, this cycle of dissent and repression, is what produced the Arab uprisings of 2011.
3) Finally, to understand the challenges that the Middle East faces today, we have to understand the consequences of how certain states broke down. When the protests came, many governments responded poorly, in ways that exacerbated societal divisions, and further weakened and in some cases collapsed state institutions. Some governments responded particularly badly, in ways that generated violence, enabled the growth of terrorist movements, and has morphed in at least three countries into outright civil war.