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
Per GOVERNMENT EUROPAposted last June, “Funding for border security, management and migration will increase from a total of €13bn over the period 2014-2020, to €34.9bn over the next budgetary period, from 2021-2027. The increase in funding reflects the need to respond to the growing challenges of irregular migration, security and mobility.”
The EU spending more on border and migration control should not come as a surprise. The migrant crisis which began with the unrests of individual countries of the MENA region, carried on for some time as this constant flow of the Mediterranean Sea crossings towards the northern shores seem to defy everything, and all indicators showed that this is not ending any day soon.
Guinea’s President Alpha Conde (R), President-in-Office of the African Union (AU), speaks with Donald Tusk (L), the President of the European Council, during a joint news conference after the closing session of the 5th African Union – European Union (AU-EU) summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 30 November 2017. [Legnan Koula/EPA/EFE]
The European Commission’s proposal to bolster Europe’s borders would mean that for the first time the EU will spend more on migration control than on developing Africa, as the determination to ‘fortify’ the Continent prevails among national governments and institutions.
This stance breaks with Europe’s traditional approach, in which the Union was proud to be seen as the world’s largest donor to developing nations.
The Commission says that the next multiannual financial framework (MFF), the EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027, would increase funds for Sub-Saharan Africa by 23%, from €26.1 billion to €32 billion.
However, these figures (in current prices) varied significantly when constant prices are used.
As Commission officials confirmed to EURACTIV, the amount in 2018 prices (hence taking into account inflation) is estimated at €26.6bn for the 2014-2020 period.
The figure for the period 2021-2027 in 2018 prices for Sub-Saharan Africa would be €28.3 billion. This amount would represent an additional 7% compared to the previous MFF in real terms.
But this increase would be minimal compared to the extra support given to migration and border management.
The Commission wants to allocate €30.83 billion for these priorities for the next seven-year period, also in 2018 prices.
This represents around €2.5 billion more than the funds earmarked for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The bulk of the money (€18.8 billion) would be dedicated to border management. This would represent almost a 200% increase compared to the previous seven year budget, when €5.6 billion was allocated.
Almost half of this amount (€10.58 billion) would be dedicated to supporting decentralized agencies, especially the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCGA).
The Commission wants to increase the personnel of EBCGA to 10,000 border guards and officials.
A total of €9.97 billion also under this envelope would go to migration management, in particular to support member states through the Asylum and Migration Fund.
Part of this envelope would be for asylum, legal migration and integration. But at least half of these funds could end up dedicated to countering irregular migration, to execute returns and support member states with additional resources to protect their borders in case of emergency situations.
The EU has other instruments to support Africa: the Africa Trust Fund and part of its External Investment Plan.
Most of the EU funds (around €3.5 billion) to support the trust fund come from budget lines already included in the African envelope, in particular the European Development Fund (EDF).
In addition, member states and other donors (including Switzerland and Norway) pledged €439 million, and €393 million had been paid so far.
As regards to the Investment plan for Africa, the Commission contributed €4.4 billion, also financed through instruments such as the EDF and the relevant parts of the Development Cooperation Instrument, already included in the funds for Africa.
Under the ‘Juncker plan’ for Africa, the EU aims to mobilise around €44 billion in investment through financial engineering (guarantees and blending), mostly coming from the private sector.
The EU allocated €22 billion for its Neighbourhood area for 2021-2027, which includes Eastern countries and the Southern Mediterranean region.
However, the allocation of funds per country and priorities would come during the programming phase, once the regulation has been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, the Commission explained.
The Commission’s MFF proposal will be discussed in the coming months by the Parliament and member states.
The extra money has been allocated to bolster EU’s external borders despite the number of arrivals to Europe having decreased by around 80% this year, compared to 2017.
But a growing group of countries want to shield the Union, including the Visegrad group (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia), the new Italian government and Austria.
This represents a stark contrast with 2015, when the news of the deadliest modern shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea that killed about 800 migrants, and the image of a drowned Syrian boy on the Turkish coast triggered a wave of solidarity in Europe with the newcomers.
That year, the number of arrivals by sea registered the record number of 1,015,078, according to the UNHCR.
Some senior EU officials insist that more resources should be allocated for Africa.
European Parliament president, Antonio Tajani, said that the “primary duty of Europe” should be to combat the root causes of the migration flows, including the instability and insecurity in large parts of Africa, and the poverty, famine and climate change in the continent.
By 2050, the population of Africa is set to double to more than 2.5 billion. Tajani warned that if Europe does not act, the arrivals we see today would turn into millions.
“We will see biblical movements of people from the South to the North”, he told reporters in early July, on the occasion of Austria’s takeover of the rotating presidency of the EU.
Noting the Investment plan for Africa and the African Trust Fund, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said during the same press conference that it was “not a correct picture of what it is being done when people said we are doing nothing for Africa”.
Speaking alongside the two presidents, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced a “paradigm shift” in tackling the migration issue during his semester at the EU’s helm. His top priority will be securing EU’s external borders.
Kurz, leader of Austria’s Popular Party, illustrates how mainstream parties in Europe have toughened their stance toward migration in recent months.
Following his victory in elections last October, he formed a government with the extreme-right Freedom Party.
Out of all the MENA countries, the GCC migrant domestic workers, mainly in the UAE and Qatar where together with their outdoor counterpart such as drivers and / or other domestic helpers form almost the majority of all expatriate workers. Elsewhere in the GCC, the situation though practically similar, would be less acute in terms of numbers. Since the advent of oil & gas and all related boom years, this situation has decanted down from the countries leaders, generalising to most settled populations as some sort of consensual culture.
Policies of Saudisation, Emiritisation and Qatarisation, to name but a few, are on-going operations that are meant to mitigate the above and are relatively successful in their discrete implementation. If that is not enough, legislation and other administration’s rules and regulations covering all aspects of life that were supplemented by the recent introduction of various taxation and annulation of certain state subsidies are in turn affecting the flow of immigration. This has always been subjected to what is called the “Kafala” or a sponsorship of an employer system.
GCC countries have however made notable progress in recent years but despite that, abuse has still been noted here and there, through sad and very hyped up events. Meanwhile, the GCC’s dependence generally, on expatriate workforce is reckoned by most to continue in the near future because mainly of the enduring rentier economy’s related life style coupled with the not diminishing shortage of professionally and technically qualified local workers.
An (International Labour Organization) ILO’s Domestic Work White Paper Press release | 08 March 2018 outlines policy recommendations to reform the migrant domestic work sector and establish a professionalized and high-quality care economy in the region.
The domestic work sector makes a vital economic and social contribution to the Arab States region, with domestic workers supporting the care of children during critical stages of development, supporting the elderly to live with dignity, and relieving nationals of their domestic and care responsibilities, enabling greater female labour force participation. Migrant workers form the majority of workers in this sector in the Arab States – with the region hosting 3.16 million migrant domestic workers .
Important progress has been made over the last few years by a number of countries in the region towards legislative change to better regulate the sector. Weak enforcement, however, means that the sector is susceptible to a high turnover of workers and poor efficiency in job matching and job placement, and is characterized by informality and large numbers of workers in an irregular situation. Poor regulation of the international recruitment industry (including illegal charging of fees and related costs to workers), coupled with restrictions under the kafala sponsorship system, leave workers and employers unsatisfied with the current sector model.
“Employers’ and domestic workers’ needs are not necessarily in conflict,” said Ruba Jaradat, ILO Regional Director for Arab States. “Rather both parties call for transparency in the recruitment process, amendments and clarifications on the conditions of sponsorship, better quality skills development and job matching, and streamlined systems of dispute resolution.”
“Employers and workers can become allies in calling for reform to the sector,” Jaradat said.
As demographics and household structures transform in the region, the White Paper recommends that governments of the Arab States work towards establishing a professionalized and quality care economy , of which domestic work and the labour of migrant workers forms an essential part. A vibrant, strong and resilient care economy should take into account the needs and preferences of employers, ensure high quality care and services, and guarantee decent working conditions (for both nationals and migrant workers).
The paper presents a number of innovative practices from around the world.
“To find a way to balance employers’ right to privacy, with the need to assess working conditions, new models of labour inspection can be introduced,” said Sophia Kagan, Chief Technical Advisor of the ILO’s FAIRWAY project , citing one example.
“Information and awareness raising sessions and campaigns can be implemented for both workers and employers. Campaigns targeting employers must incorporate behaviour change messages to help shift practices that have been cemented over generations,” Kagan continued.
Finally, the report points to the importance of social dialogue which can be achieved through the creation and support of organizations that represent the interests of both parties.
The ILO’s work includes supporting governments in the region to develop and implement new thinking that can ensure a productive domestic work sector to the benefit of all – workers, employers and society.