Pensions for UAE expats are a seminal moment

Dubai's government is offering its foreign employees an important gesture of thanks

The UAE is a symbol of cosmopolitanism in the Middle East. AFP
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Even before its union 50 years ago, the UAE has been a place for ambitious talent from across the globe to build remarkable, profitable careers. In the earliest days, dominant professions were the ones you would expect for a rapidly developing, energy-driven economy, from workers in the oil industry to those in construction. Today, as the country continues to diversify its society, those who are willing to take the bold step of leaving their countries can find just about any profession in which to work.

This would not have been possible without a public sector committed to expanding the UAE's economic horizons.

Central government, by its nature, is dominated by nationals of a particular country. But one of the UAE’s particular strengths has been an openness to recruiting non-citizens. After all, how better to build a diverse society than by employing people from around the world?

This week, Dubai offered a historic gesture of thanks to this crucial group of people, when Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, said on Wednesday that non-Emirati employees working in the emirate's government and public sector can join a new savings pension plan. It will have no bearing on the existing gratuity scheme that gives people a lump sum after they leave employment, and authorities have said that private sector firms can apply the measure if they so choose. Some have already launched similar schemes. Last year, AXA Green Crescent Insurance Company introduced one to help UAE employees save for retirement, a model similar to ones found abroad.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, who unveiled the new measure, pictured here last month with the Duke of Cambridge. PA

The public sector, however, is a particularly noteworthy area for the change to be taking place. For years, the government has been committing itself to Emiratisation, a process by which it is empowering UAE nationals in all aspects of the country's economy. Recent projects that fall under the umbrella include targeting percentages of Emirati employees for private sector companies and investment in specialist education, particularly in technical fields.

In short, the idea is to get more Emiratis into more fields. But the deeper aims of the policy are more complex. The process is not simply about placing Emiratis in positions that previously belonged to foreign workers. Rather, it is about using more local talent and participation to strengthen the entire economy. And stronger economies create more jobs for all, native and non-native alike. It is in the context of this wider goal that the Dubai government's move should be viewed. Even with Emiratisation remaining a priority, there is still attention being paid to those who choose to make the UAE home.

While the decision is economic by design, it is about more than better money management. It is also about promoting the sense that the UAE can be a long-term place of work and retirement for people from all corners of the globe. This has also been a goal of recently revised labour laws, including an extended grace period that gives foreigners who leave jobs in the UAE far more time to look for new employment before having to leave the country, as well as new 10-year Golden Visas, awarded on merit, which give recipients far more flexible terms than traditional ones. There was even the creation of a retirement visa in 2018.

By thinking about all types of public sector workers in the country, alongside labour reforms, the UAE is paving the way for foreigners and Emiratis to not just be more prosperous, but even more integrated in an ever-diversifying society.

Published: March 04, 2022, 3:00 AM