Saudi women make up 16.5% of labor force
Saudi women make up 16.5% of labor force
Recent policy initiatives in the GCC have once again highlighted the fact that a significant proportion of the abundant and rapidly growing human capital of the regional economies remains underutilized. The pre-2008 boom failed to translate faster economic growth into a greater relative employment of nationals. For instance, the IMF recently estimated that, although the GCC countries created a total of 7 million new employment opportunities over the past decade, fewer than 2 million of them went to nationals. This was largely due to rapid growth in the traditionally expatriate dominated construction and service sectors.
The GCC countries are all to varying degrees characterized by idiosyncrasies that set their labor markets apart from much of the rest of the world. In particular, overall employment levels are internationally low. The UAE's total employment is 53 percent while the corresponding figure in Saudi Arabia has tended to be just below 50 percent. Qatar, by contrast, boasts a much high rate of 75 percent, partly reflecting the numerical dominance of expatriate residing in the country on work visas. This state of affairs is partly the result of low labor force participation by women. Due to cultural reasons and the persistent norm of large families, female labor force participation by women tends to be significantly lower than that of men. According to official data, Saudi women make up 16.5 percent of the total national labor force. Similarly, while 62.5 percent of the UAE's male citizens were economically active in 2009, the corresponding figure for women was only 27.5 percent. These figures stand in an increasingly stark contrast to the dominance of women at institutions of tertiary education where they increasingly outnumber men.
There are dramatic differences in the sector-level labor market participation by nationals who tend to have a very strong bias in favor of public sector employment. In Saudi Arabia, 92 percent of public sector employment in 2011 was made up of nationals who occupied a total of 919,108 positions. By contrast, their share of the private sector labor force in 2010 was only 10.4 percent with nationals holding a total of 724,655 positions. In the UAE, Emirati nationals occupy only 43,000 of the 2.2 million private sector jobs in the country whereas the public sector employs 495,000 Emiratis. The preference for public sector employment is in part due to more attractive compensation and working hours but in practice overstuffing has in many cases adversely affected job quality and human capital development.
On the other hand, the robust economic expansion in the oil-fueled 1970s resulted in rapidly growing demand for new skills and workers, which the national labor markets struggled to respond to. The consequence was a growing reliance on imported labor. This, in combination with the simultaneous dominance of nationals in the public sector, in turn engendered perceptions, attitudes, and organizational solution that have made this skewed labor market development extremely resistant to change. By and large, the more labor-intensive a private sector activity, the greater its dependence on expatriate labor tends to be. These are typically sectors where the average compensation and productivity levels alike are internationally low. In essence, the large-scale imports of low-cost manual labor have created a low-cost, low-efficiency equilibrium. Although boosting efficiency would be good for growth, doing so would potentially undermine the model and involve short-term disruptions, which are frequently taken as an argument against policy changes. For instance, following the launch of the Nitaqat program, the Ministry of Labor found that 50 percent of all companies in the Kingdom were in the red or yellow categories with an extremely heavy reliance of expatriates.
Given the current structure of the labor market, it is extremely unlikely that economic growth alone can generate sufficient employment opportunities for nationals to absorb the currently unemployed and the projected new jobseekers. Moreover, international precedents suggest that entrenched patterns in labor markets cannot be overcome without significant regulatory intervention. The key challenge for regional policy-makers is to reshape the regional labor markets in ways that are economically as undisruptive as possible.
The best-known of the recent new policy initiatives is Saudi Arabia's Nitaqat program, which creates rewards for companies with a strong history of employing nationals and imposes penalties on ones lagging behind. At the same time, efforts are under way to enhance the operations of the labor market. In particular, the challenge of unemployment is being tackled in part by compiling better information about jobseekers and vacancies while communicating both more widely. Additional interventions are being considered to better match market demand and supply.
One of the most important new initiatives in this regard is the unemployment support program Hafiz, which was introduced in Saudi Arabia last year. A major Hafiz goal is to turn the unemployed into active jobseekers. Job placement centers (Taqat) have been set up to register and counsel candidates so as to better equip them to meet the needs of the market. The Internet-based Virtual Labor Market provides automated search engines as well as online training. Beyond this, efforts are under way to develop better monitoring mechanisms for the labor market so as to better understand the prevailing needs and dynamics and to respond to them in a timely manner. At the same time, education remains a key priority area for government spending across the region.
But a successful sustainable change in the regional employment pattern will likely require much more than policy redesign. In the words of Kotilaine, “At a time when educational attainment levels and the quality of education are improving, there needs to be a cultural paradigm shift in the corporate sphere. Regional private companies must be encouraged and incentivized to change their default modus operandi from “import the employer you need” to “develop the talent you require.” Given the limited resources of many companies, not least in the area of human capital management, the government may need to facilitate the process where appropriate and reward companies that properly engage and develop their national employees.” In view of widespread skill shortages in certain areas, the authorities — possibly with private sector participation — can offer more centralized training solution to many companies at the same time.
Is the Dubai economy turning the corner?
- Expo 2020 expected to boost GDP
- Relaxation of residency rules helps real estate
LONDON: Is the Dubai economy finally turning the corner? At least one major international bank thinks so.
It follows a move by the emirate's leadership to reboot an economy that has been hit hard by corporate job losses, the introduction of VAT and a slowing real estate sector.
The UAE’s non-oil economy is likely to “turn a corner” next year with Dubai’s Expo 2020 infrastructure projects, changes to visa rules and increased government spending set to boost growth, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) research note.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s (ADNOC) downstream expansion plans are also expected to drive the country’s non-oil GDP growth, said the note compiled by Middle East and North Africa (MENA) economist Jean Michel Saliba.
The Gulf country’s real GDP growth is estimated to rise to 3.5 percent in 2019 from a forecast 2.8 percent increase this year and a 1.9 percent increase in 2017, said the note published on Thursday.
Buoyed by a recovery in oil prices, Abu Dhabi approved a 50 billion dirham ($13.6 billion) three-year stimulus package in early June, which BofAML estimated could add 0.4 percentage points to non-oil GDP growth.
ADNOC’s $45 billion five-year downstream investment plan — revealed in May — is estimated to add a further 1.1 percentage point to the emirate’s non-oil growth, the report said.
The Expo 2020 event in Dubai could drive up GDP growth by 2 percentage points between 2020 and 2021, the report said, by boosting job creation, consumption and tourist numbers.
Given the improvement in oil prices, the cost of Abu Dhabi’s stimulus spending is considered “financeable” by BofAML, while Dubai’s spending plans are said to be “modest.”
Recent structural reforms, including plans to introduce long-term expatriate visas for up to 10 years, could help to boost the UAE’s population and consumer demand, the note said.
“The new UAE long-term and temporary visa system should facilitate retention of white-collar expatriates,” it said.
“As we expect longer-term visas not to be linked to continued employment, this may increase expatriate incentives to acquire property and support real estate demand.”
The UAE announced in May that it would allow 100 percent foreign ownership of UAE companies in specific industries by the end of the year, a move that could give a welcome boost to foreign direct investment in the country.
A new UAE-wide insurance scheme may provide a one-time boost to corporate profits, the note said.
The UAE cabinet approved plans in June for the insurance scheme to replace the previous system whereby employers had to provide a monetary guarantee to cover each of their workforce.
The move is likely to free up capital that companies could choose to sit on or to reinvest, BofAML said.
“Should corporates invest, we estimate this could lead to a one-off 0.1percentage point boost to UAE non-hydrocarbon real GDP growth,” the report said.