‘Reduce number of expatriate workers in GCC’, says UAE Minister

The Minister of Labour was talking about increasing job opportunities for Gulf citizens at the Regional Workshop on Labour Admission Policies in GCC Countries.

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ABU DHABI // GCC countries need to implement policies that help reduce the reliance on expatriate labour and increase job opportunities for their own citizens, a workshop heard yesterday.

During a speech at the opening of the two-day Regional Workshop on Labour Admission Policies in GCC Countries – organised by the Ministry of Labour and Arab Monetary Fund – Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, said policies must be developed to curb the numbers of overseas workers to make room for local talent.

“In the past, we needed foreign labour to develop the foundation and infrastructure of our nations. However, the policies of the past must stop and a new model must be implemented for attracting specific foreign workers to encourage the creation of jobs for the sons and daughters of the nation,” he said.

Topics being discussed at the workshop being held at Jumeirah Etihad Towers include specifying objectives for admitting workers, coordination between countries to control migration and the limits within the current economic models on foreign workers.

Aqeel Ahmed Al Jassim, the director general of the executive bureau of the GCC Council, said that labour policies during the past 60 years had had mixed levels of success.

“The GCC governments must understand the nature of these markets and recognise that many of the policies in the recent past were unsuccessful because they were too set on the traditional way of doing business,” said Mr Al Jassim.

He also discussed initiatives in the GCC economic sector to address the lack of training for low-skilled labour and the ways in which the region is providing solutions.

“Ultimately, we will find success in our economic sector by reforming the labour market policies and by developing skills already present within these industries in a sustainable way for the future,” he said.

Andras Bodor, the senior economist and human development coordinator for the GCC at the World Bank, emphasised that expatriate labour was still important for the economic growth in the region.

“Many may be disappointed in the fact that the GCC gets so much criticism for this phenomenon instead of getting recognition for the effort that is being put forth and the economic development that’s being achieved,” he said.

He added that the aim of the World Bank’s work with GCC countries is to improve their economic structures so they can make better use of their pool of labour.

“With all the recognition that the GCC deserves when dealing with this phenomenon, it’s worth mentioning that there is room for improvement in labour mobility procedures in order to make it more conducive for economic development in the region and create higher productivity levels for GCC markets,” he said.

Another guest, Froilan Malit Jr, the director of labour research at the International Gulf Organisation, said: “The intent of the workshops is to develop and analyse GCC labour markets and to determine criteria for certain workers that they employ in the future.

“They [employers] want to improve the skills of, for example, constructions workers so that it not only allows for that worker to become better trained but it also reduces the amount of labourers needed in the region.”

He said the policies would match those of many European and Asian countries, which try to reduce the amount of low-skilled labour immigration in favour of admitting workers with wider skill sets and promoting local talent.