Dubai reveals snapshot of its workforce

Labour numbers show a male-dominated force comprised of almost 90 per cent expatriates, with unemployment below 1 per cent.

Dubai - September 11, 2009 - People waiting outside the doors of the City Center Dubai Metro station talk with a Dubai Police officer during their wait in Deira September 11, 2009. The doors opened at 2:20 p.m., 20 minutes past their scheduled time to open. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National) (2:11p.m.)  *** Local Caption ***  JT008-0910-Dubai Metro_MG_1911.jpg

Dubai employment figures revealed yesterday paint a picture of a male-dominated labour force where unemployment is below 1 per cent and almost nine out of 10 workers are expatriates. While the Dubai Statistics Centre has carried out the annual labour force survey for years, its new take on the workforce brings fresh nuance to data on a working-age population the centre says grew by 7.2 per cent between 2008 and last year, from 1,465,409 to 1,570,923.

The figures reveal an overall unemployment rate of about 0.8 per cent last year, down from 1.1 per cent in 2008. Only 11,152 people 15 years old and over were unemployed at the time of the survey, compared with a total "economically active" population of 1,363,400. People who were not economically active - including housewives, students, people not seeking work, unable to work, retired or temporarily disabled - were excluded from the unemployment calculation.

Though the prevalence of male expatriate labourers in the UAE's workforce is widely known, the survey made clear the vast extent of that dominance. More than 80 per cent of Dubai's working-age population was male, the data said, and Emiratis comprised just 6.8 per cent of it. Differences between Emiratis and expatriates were evident throughout the results. The low overall unemployment rate of 0.8 per cent, for example, contrasted with an 8.7 per cent unemployment figure for Emiratis, who made up only 3 per cent of Dubai's workforce. Low unemployment among expatriates, of course, is explained by the country's elastic labour force: expatriate workers come to the country to work and leave when their employment ends.

The percentage of the population aged 15 and over classed as not economically active, meanwhile, was much higher for Emiratis than expatriates. Almost 56 per cent of Emiratis were not in the workforce, the survey said, compared with 9.9 per cent of expatriates. Emirati women were scarce in the labour force, with just 23.9 per cent in active employment. Economists have pointed to women as an untapped source of economic growth in the UAE, recommending they be encouraged to enter the workforce in greater numbers.

Another difference between Emiratis and expatriates showed up in a breakdown of jobs by industry. More than 58 per cent of working Emiratis had jobs in "public administration and defence", while 42.9 per cent of expatriates - 579,759 of them - worked in the construction industry. There were clear wage gaps as well: almost 69 per cent of working expatriates made less than Dh3,000 a month, while 67.7 per cent of working Emiratis made more than Dh14,000 a month.

The release of the statistics comes as economists and analysts clamour for more comprehensive figures on population growth and the workforce across the UAE. While several analysts have estimated that Dubai's population declined last year due to the high concentration of jobs in the emirate's embattled construction sector, Dubai Statistics Centre figures released in March said the emirate's overall population actually increased by 7.3 per cent last year.

That confounded predictions by Nabil Ahmed, an analyst at Deutsche Bank in Dubai, who had forecast an 11 per cent population decline last year. Saud Masud, an analyst at UBS in Dubai, had predicted an 8 per cent fall. Other analysts have said businesses and investors needed better numbers on which to base their decisions. The Central Bank releases economic and banking data on a monthly basis, but there is little in the way of numbers on the health of the manufacturing or retail sectors.

"I think any sort of process of providing more statistics and data would be welcome, and I don't think there has necessarily been any real change on that approach in the past 12 months," said Ali Khan, a director at Arqaam Capital in Dubai. But Mr Khan said the onus should not fall entirely on the Government to provide a more regular gauge of economics and demographics. "There are enough large businesses in the private sector that could share their data," he said. "It doesn't have to fall on the Government."