Counting the cost of labour

Counting the cost of labour

WHILE HAVING coffee after an intense business conference, one top Indian executive gestured that he would like a word with me. He first made sure that there were no eavesdroppers before starting.

By Akif Abdulamir (Desert Classics)

Published: Sun 24 Mar 2013, 8:33 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 4:29 AM

He had a problem but no one would listen. It is a dilemma that half of the expatriate population in the Gulf share. He was worried about all the news widely reported in the regional newspapers about job localisation programmes. He was also worried about losing his job, as at his age it would be difficult to get another position anywhere.

I sympathise with him on only one important count. He spent the last 30 years of his life working in the country. In other words, he has lived more in Oman than the country of his birth. Moreover, his three children were born in the country and are now in their twenties. As far as they are concerned, they know no other country but Oman, apart from brief holidays away. Yes, I can see his point especially when reading of the health statistics of retiring expatriates going back to their countries. They only have 40 per cent chance of living a healthy life after resettling. Age has nothing to do with it since some of them are only in their early fifties.

There is no fixed labour legislation in most regional countries. I fully support the fact that locals must find jobs since unemployment is becoming a factor in the GCC. I also know for a fact that some expatriates even try to undermine the efforts of opening up employment for nationals. However, the majority of expatriates, especially those who have been here for more than 20 years, contribute positively towards the creation of local jobs. It is in this segment that the authorities must retain and not get rid of foreigners. The only thing that I say is that some long-term expatriates must fully mingle with nationals in social matters to make it work. When you work and live in a place for a quarter of century then it stops being just a matter of profession. It goes beyond the realm of office work. Full integration with the locals is important.

There is a lot of room for improvement in the labour regulations. I have always been of the opinion that long-term expatriates who contribute positively must be given the right to retire here. They should enjoy a permanent residency without having to make expensive investments. Retaining them is a way of acknowledging their efforts and they could be used as consultants whenever the private sector wishes to do so. Moreover, the laws must also be sympathetic to their children who were born and raised here. We all know that the Gulf countries cannot at present sustain their economy were the states to depend entirely on their own human resources. That will take many decades to achieve.

Higher education institutes could be one way to compensate for the welfare of long-term expatriates. Their children opting for local colleges should get a priority in employment. This will encourage expatriates not to send their children abroad for further studies.

The benefits are mutual. Private institutes would get the revenue they need and expatriates’ children could integrate socially more effectively with local kids. Then it would be easy for legislators to make up their minds which expatriates should be allowed to remain. Of course, only a small percentage of foreign workers would benefit from the special privileges but it is the only way for the region to balance out its economic needs. The other alternative is to repatriate much-needed workforce when it can be utilised here.

Akif Abdulamir is a Oman-based writer

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