UAE salary guide 2021: How much should you be earning?

Take a look at the earning potential for sectors including finance, oil & gas, sales, property, construction, accounting and office support

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The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major upheavals around the world – not least in the jobs market.

The tumultuous events of 2020 have affected millions of workers worldwide, including in the UAE, where many companies made staff redundant and reduced salaries in an effort to trim costs and remain operational.

While uncertainty remains, a brighter picture has been forecast for the Emirates, with the Central Bank of the UAE projecting the economy will grow 2.5 per cent in 2021.

So, what is the salary outlook for jobseekers this year?

Pay levels in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other emirates

The data from HR and recruitment specialist Cooper Fitch (see slideshow above) is based on surveys with 200 companies in the UAE.

More than 70 per cent of the companies that participated in the Cooper Fitch survey were large firms rather than SMEs, according to Trefor Murphy, the company's founder and chief executive.

"We've been running the surveys for eight years in the UAE and with each year that we see an increase or decrease, we adjust them up or down accordingly," he tells The National.

"The numbers come from firms that choose to use recruitment firms, so the organisations that don't use us, we don't use their data and we don't know what is happening there.

"In my view, maybe the organisations that are in a position where they are doing well, and are in a position to pay, are those that are using recruitment partners – and so it is those that can pay their employees better."

While an emirate-by-emirate breakdown reflecting the local economic situation is not provided within the company's data, Mr Murphy says different pay levels between the different emirates has "always been the case".

"Jobs, salaries and compensation are as a result of pure supply and demand. If someone wants to work in Ajman or Ras Al Khaimah, it’s like comparing a job in London with the option of working somewhere outside of the hustle and bustle of the city – it won’t pay as much."

The numbers shown in the slideshow are for fixed salaries with no benefits, such as school allowance or bonuses, included.

Mr Murphy says he hasn't seen much change to allowances being offered to companies since the onset of the pandemic.

"Certainly among the 200 firms we surveyed, they are not reducing allowances," he says. "There has been an overall reduction during the past five or 10 years but whereas Dubai may have been a hardship posting a decade ago, that is certainly not the case any more."

Cooper Fitch's annual salary survey found that 65 per cent of respondents said there was no change to mid-level salaries, and 66 per cent said executive compensation also remained flat. Fourteen per cent said they decreased mid-level wages, and 12 per cent cut executive pay.

The company expects a slight correction to UAE salary ranges for new hires in 2021 at -2 per cent. Forty-one per cent of respondents were undecided on whether existing staff would receive a pay rise in 2021, while 27 per cent said they would implement a merit salary increase.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A: Standalone / Weather. The sun sets behind the Dubai skyline. Tuesday, May 26th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The Dubai skyline. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Sectors with biggest wage increases

Despite the Covid-19-induced economic challenges, global recruitment consultancy Robert Half also expects salaries in the UAE to remain stable this year.

Sectors such as technology, pharmaceuticals, finance, government and human resources will offer the biggest wage increases, bonuses and benefits to retain top talent, according to its 2021 Salary Guide.

"Business leaders recognise that retention strategies need to evolve if they're to remain effective in the current climate. For this reason, salaries have remained stable, with some businesses even offering bonuses of up to 25 per cent for their top performers," it says in the report.

"However, remuneration packages have been stripped back to core benefits over recent months. Employees are primarily requesting incentives that support their development and performance while working from home. Typically, employers will only offer this to top talent."

Robert Half polled 1,500-plus business leaders across mainland Europe, the UK and Brazil during July 2020. "The results, we believe, are also indicative of current employer sentiment in the UAE," it says.

Robert Half did not comment further on its UAE data when contacted by The National.

Meanwhile, the Michael Page salary guide for 2021 does not indicate if workers can expect improved pay levels this year.

Companies that successfully navigated 2020 did so thanks to a strong company culture pre-Covid, fostered by in-person communication and interactions both internally and externally, Pierre-Emmanuel Dupil, senior managing director at Page Group for the Middle East and Africa, says.

The salary data is "indicative of the data for the region, but most accurately for the UAE", Jon Ede, regional director at Michael Page Middle East, adds.

"Each discipline/sector specialist looks at the data/reporting via our recruitment tech platform [salaries, job flow] and also the guide summaries [of] the insights from his/her interactions over the past 12 months with our client organisations and candidates," he tells The National.

The figures quoted in the Michael Page salary guide are inclusive of benefits for a range of private sector companies, such as multinational corporations, SMEs, family groups and government, Mr Ede adds.


Highest paid jobs in UAE

  • Banking - chief compliance officer Dh93,000-Dh115,000, chief operating officer Dh95,000-Dh113,000
  • Legal - managing partner Dh84,100-Dh122,300, General Counsel Dh80,000-Dh130,000
  • Oil and gas - LNG manager Dh38,000-Dh72,000, Petroleum engineering manager Dh38,000-Dh65,000
  • Public sector - Undersecretary Dh125,000-Dh175,000, executive director Dh90,000-Dh130,000
  • Strategy - chief information officer Dh85,500-Dh111,000, partner Dh110,000-Dh162,000
  • Senior finance and tax - group chief financial officer Dh90,000-Dh130,000
  • Sales and marketing - regional commercial director Dh55,000-Dh69,000, head of corporate communications Dh51,000-Dh65,000
  • Manufacturing and supply chain - managing director Dh94,000-Dh130,000, chief operations officer Dh80,000-Dh120,000
  • Investment management - chief investment officer Dh130,000-Dh170,000, head of investments Dh85,000-Dh140,000
  • Technology - chief information officer Dh60,000-Dh105,000, chief technology officer Dh50,700-Dh97,900
  • HR and office support - HR director Dh64,800-Dh109,500, head of HR Dh50,000-Dh90,200
  • Financial services - chief risk officer Dh90,000-Dh150,000, finance and accounting CFO Dh85,000-Dh140,000
  • Accounting and finance - CFO Dh70,000-Dh130,000
  • Property and construction - general manager Dh60,000-Dh80,000, development director Dh65,000-Dh80,000
  • Secretary and office support - executive assistant Dh24,000-Dh32,000, office manager Dh20,000-Dh32,000
  • Digital - chief digital officer Dh50,000-Dh90,000, head of digital marketing Dh35,000-Dh60,000

A version of this article was first published on January 18