Sunday, February 01, 2009

The road less travelled in the Gulf

The recent internal circular on thrift expenditure reflects the current situation. It reminds us, the employees, about the prevailing uncertainties without sight of light at the end of the tunnel, yet. We keep our heads down and take things as they come.

Some already planning for option B if anything happens, such as exploring other Gulf states.

The spectacular economic growth of the UAE has lured hundreds of thousands of expats to its palm-fringed shores. However, as the downturn hits the emirates, those same expats are being forced to turn elsewhere to prolong their stay in the Gulf.

Claire Ferris-Lay

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Lured by the promise of a tax-free salary and year-round sunshine, project manager Jonathan Underwood moved from Britain to the UAE eight months ago. However, he was unable to live the dream for long: Underwood was forced to return home in December after the project he was assigned to was cancelled without warning.

He is keen to return to the Gulf but, in today's climate, his horizons have broadened. "When I was looking for work in the UAE I was told everything was dead," he shrugs. "I would go back to Dubai but in reality I don't think its going to happen - Bahrain is a better opportunity [for finding employment]."

Underwood is not alone in widening his search. Spectacular economic growth, spurred by a booming construction sector and record high oil prices, has lured hundreds of thousands of expats to the UAE. But as the global recession starts to bite and major construction projects are put on hold, many expats have been forced to look to other Gulf states for job opportunities.

"We are placing a lot of people within the GCC, and now our focus is on relocating clients from Dubai and some from Abu Dhabi into wider GCC markets," says Dave Storey, a director at Dubai-based recruitment firm Michael Page Middle East.

In the last five years local and international real estate and construction firms have embarked on a hiring frenzy, unable to keep up with huge demand for skills and labour. According to the Federal National Council around 640,000 work permits for foreigners were issued in the first quarter of 2008, nearly half of which were in Dubai.

Today, with mounting job losses, the picture is quite different. In December Nakheel made 500 of its staff redundant. Dubai-based Damac Properties cut 200 jobs in October, while Al Shafar General Contracting laid off 1,000 workers and some 800 staff at Dubai Labour Supply Company (Dulsco) have been left looking for work.

UAE labour laws dictate that redundancy victims have one month to find new employment before their visa is revoked and they are ordered to leave the country. And with the clock ticking, many expats who are keen to remain in the Gulf, and boast years of Middle East experience, are turning to other GCC countries and finding their services are still required.

"Traditionally it has always been difficult to get people to even listen to job opportunities in [Saudi Arabia] but out of necessity people are choosing to look at that area now. It is an important part of the GCC and there will be a lot of opportunities to work there," says Matthew Taylor, a Dubai-based international director for real estate recruitment agency MacDonald & Company.

"Local market experience is important," he adds. "There is also a cost implication as well. If companies are looking at making savings, they are always going to go for the people closest to them."

Analysts agree there are still opportunities available across the Gulf. Patricia McCall, a senior consultant at corporate finance and consultancy firm Jasper Capital, notes that although the entire Gulf has been hit by the global downturn, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are best placed to mop up expatriates from the UAE for government-backed mega-projects.

"Saudi Arabia still has quite a lot of reserves so a lot of spending power to keep projects going ahead, and if they do keep their projects going ahead then there is a huge need for human capital to execute these projects," she says. "Qatar, meanwhile, has an abundance of gas and its economy is still quite strong. I would say that Qatar would be one of the few places that would continue to recruit."


1 comment:

Pentilium5 said...

funny thing is islamic banks in the gulf did buy subprime assets whcich is not so 'halal' but refuses to buy sukuk certain sukuks issued by Malaysian companies...