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A labour, but not of love

A labour, but not of love

The new labour laws highlight the UAE authority’s concern for Emiratization, but also its apathy towards many expatriates, says Eva Fernandes.

January 11, 2011 3:02 by

A flip through the newspapers this morning reveals more developments in the confusing amendments the UAE is making to its labour law. From what I can make out, there is a new tier system which categorizes companies into five groups; the higher a company’s category the less they will have to pay for the labour cards and other fees associated with employees. Seems simple enough, but what qualifies a company to a category? Ah, now there is the tricky part.

The National says, “initial classification depends on the diversity – and Emiratisation – of their workforce.” Don’t ask me how diversity and Emiratisation are in the same sentence, because I still want to know what the definition of diversity is in this context.

Emirates 24|7, confuses us further with its explanation: “For enterprises to be included under Category I, 20 per cent or more of their total staff must fall under skill levels 1 (degree-holders), 2 (diploma holders) and 3 (unskilled workers).” Excuse me if I’m being a bit slow here, but don’t degree holders, diploma holders and unskilled workers constitute for the entire workforce in the UAE?

Although Emirates 24|7 says that the differentiating factor between the categories is “the skills levels of employees and Emiratisation ratio” it seems that the real difference is the salary employees are paid; category 1 companies are supposed to pay higher with degree holders getting a minimum of Dh12,000, for example. And while The National says there are five categories, Emirates 24|7 says there are only three.

Don’t look at Kipp; we’re taking a break from trying to figure out all the changes until they stop coming out with “clarifications.”

Confusing as it all may be, it is instructive. In the news about the labour laws some of the comments on display highlight the attitude of many advocates of Emiratization towards expatriates in the UAE.

Take, for instance, the comments from Paul Dyer, a specialist in labour issues at the Dubai School of Government, who believes the problem is that “expatriates [are] being hired too easily, with employers looking for quantity rather than quality.” He argues that Emiratis (who he admits are much more expensive to hire) are only hired to keep up with Emiratization drives: “Emiratis were hired only to keep with the quota system. There is a lot of reliance on low-skilled labour here. Firms will need to rethink this.”

There it is in a nutshell is the age-old argument: Emirati’s are victims of opportunistic expatriates who dominate the work force because of their lower salary expectations. Yes, there is a certain amount of truth to such notions, but I think the defensive reaction this provokes – sometimes even anger – is unfounded. For a country that was literally built by the hands of expatriates, I sometimes feel there is a real lack of appreciation for the contribution of UAE’s expatriate population to its rapid development and progress.

Whenever I make statements like that, the usual argument I get from proponents of Emiratization is that the government loyalty lies with its own people and not the expatriates who suck the country dry and leave to greener pastures once they’ve made their money. But the truth on the ground is that this is an exaggeration; the fact is a considerable number of expatriates end up living their entire lives in the UAE. I need to look no further than my own family to see individuals who came to the UAE in their early 20’s, started working, got married, became parents and then grandparents in the UAE and perhaps symbolically, have also been buried in the UAE. As such they contributed not only to the country’s GDP but to its wider development over the years.

Expatriate appreciation and integration is a difficult argument to make, but it is one that resonates with most second and third generation UAE expats like myself. So reading the dubious comments that always accompany any discussion of the labour law and Emiratization is often difficult and downright tiring.

Instead of patting itself on its back for its tolerance and multiculturalism so far while eyeing forced Emirati integration, the UAE should make even more of an effort to integrate its expatriates. The current alterations to the labour law are baby steps in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.

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