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Idle hands, Part I

Idle hands, Part I

For Dubai, avoiding recession may mean preventing an exodus of human as well as financial capital, Part I.

February 17, 2009 1:31 by

Such announcements have focused on middle- and upper-level staff. But it would be naive to think that the 700,000 or so migrant construction workers at the lower end of the job market, who are piecing together half-formed buildings all over the seven emirates, will be unaffected by a wave of layoffs higher up the chain of command.

Mark Blanksby, a lawyer at Clyde & Co.’s construction practice in Dubai, says the newly jobless span the pay scale. “I know of a large number of people being laid off at all levels” he says, “from laborers up to senior executives.” Blanksby has also been fielding a growing number of calls from developers and contractors paralyzed by the credit crunch, suggesting the emirate’s troubled real estate industry may continue deteriorating. “It’s going to be a very harsh six months,” he adds, “with a lot of contractors realizing that the owners they have entered into contracts with lack the funding to pay for their projects.”

Real estate isn’t the only area feeling the weight of a global crisis. The local financial and banking sectors, among others, have been dispatching employees. And as segments of the emirate’s economy stumble, workers across the job market are starting to worry that they’ll get caught up in the downturn and sent packing.

About 40 percent of the UAE’s workforce is made up of Indian nationals. One of them is KV Shamsudheen, who runs a local welfare trust and offers financial advice to his compatriots in the GCC on a weekly radio show. Lately, he says most of the complaints he has been receiving are from low- and middle-income workers who are afraid of losing their job, and who fear they’ll be left unable to repay loans they have used to make ends meet as the Gulf has become a more expensive place to live. “I’m getting calls from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait,” he says. “But the situation is worse in Dubai, [the] cost of living is highest in Dubai.”

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