Global Spotlight on UAE

Global Spotlight on UAE

Despite the absence of employment discrimination legislation, many who find work in the state and recruiters who find them, find it hard to return home

Steve Currie, Reed’s country manager in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), tells Recruiter: “It is quite normal and legal for employers to specify the sex, the age and how many years’ experience [they want in their preferred candidates].”

Currie says the absence of discrimination legislation across the vast majority of the oil-rich state is a big difference between recruiting in the UAE and the UK. “All those things you cannot say in the UK” such as “I want a man aged 30-40” and openly specifying “a female receptionist of a certain age and nationality” are quite commonplace in the UAE, he says.

“You could say it makes it easier [for the recruiter],” continues Currie, but he admits it can also be frustrating. “They might specify a Western person, but you cannot find such a person to work at that salary and even though you have someone [suitable] from India, they [the employer] won’t accept it.”

Sara Khoja, partner in employment law at law firm Clyde & Co in Dubai, explains that the only part of the UAE that has discrimination legislation is the Dubai International Financial Centre, a free zone in which legislation based on English Common Law applies.

For Khoja, the virtual absence of discrimination laws is symptomatic of a country that has fallen behind other Gulf states, such as Bahrain, which has modernised its labour laws. And despite efforts by UAE’s prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to push for women on the board of every government organisation, progress has been slow. “What doesn’t happen is women progressing into senior roles — there is much less of a focus on this in the UK,” says Khoja.

That’s not quite how Currie sees it. “I have met lots of women in powerful positions in the UAE. There isn’t a problem; it’s a perception that people outside have about the Arab world,” he says. However, Currie agrees with Khoja that gender diversity is not high on UAE corporate agendas. “I have yet to have a conversation” with a client about improving gender diversity, he says.

Equality and discrimination aside, the government’s policy of Emiratisation, in which targets are set for the proportion of jobs to be filled by UAE nationals, also complicates the picture. “There can be restrictions on employing foreigners in sectors such as banks and insurance,” says Khoja, where 4% and 5% of posts respectively must be filled by UAE nationals. And these quotas go up year-on-year. “You do find banks and insurance firms struggling to find the right people,” she adds.

One exception is private schools, says David Allison, chief executive officer of SSAT, an educational consultancy that recruits 400-500 teachers and teacher trainers a year into UAE schools, both public and private. He explains his firm is allowed to provide the British expatriate schools in the UAE with British expat teachers.

Allison says the UAE’s high level of bureaucracy can be a problem. It can take some time to get your visa, he says, and there are also medical and police checks. Another frustration is that teachers’ certificates must be obtained through the UAE Embassy in the teacher’s home country. “The assumption is that the teacher is in their home country, which isn’t always the case,” he says.

Despite such day-to-day frustrations, according to a United Nations estimate, in 2013 almost 85% of the UAE’s population were foreign nationals, including 1.8m workers from India alone. “Everybody knows about Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” says Allison. “It is seen as a good place for families, and somewhere people can stay for many years.”

Alex Young, managing director of construction and oil & gas recruiter Hamilton Cranshaw, concurs: “Most people want to stay as long as they possibly can, and very few move back to the UK.”

Key indicators

The International Monetary Fund predicts economic growth for the UAE of 3.9% in 2014, slightly down on 4.4% in 2012

Source: IMF

Population: 9.205m

Labour force: 4.34m of which 85% are expatriates

UAE ranks 23rd out of 189 economies, up from 26th in 2013

UAE is ranked 37th for ease of starting a business, No 1 for attractiveness of the tax regime and 4th for ease of trading outside borders

Source: World Bank



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