Reducing the number of expat workers in the Gulf is expected to be one of the key issues on the agenda of an upcoming meeting between GCC government ministers next month.
A team, headed by the UAE’s labor minister, has drafted an initial policy to “harmonize” recruitment practices throughout the region and phase in a program to cut the number of expats in the states’ workforce, Qatar Tribune reports.
The draft policy will be presented at the 31st session of the GCC Labor and Social Affairs Ministers, which will be held in Kuwait in November. The newspaper quotes Aqeel Ahmed Al Jassim, the director general of the executive bureau of the council’s labor ministers, as saying:
“The decision to stop the recruitment of expatriate workers cannot be taken immediately but there are programs and plans aimed at reducing the number.”
Other Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia have previously launched efforts to reduce the number of expats in the workforce.
However, initiatives in Qatar currently focus on reserving a certain percentage of jobs for nationals, rather than limiting the influx of foreign workers.
The main focus of the GCC study will be on jobs that could be filled by Gulf nationals, Al Jassim said.
GCC member states, including Qatar, have had in place employment nationalization programs for years, with targets and other incentives for public and private sector organizations to employ Gulf nationals.
In August, Qatar’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs announced its latest push in this area by setting up a new committee to further encourage private businesses to give at least 20 percent of their jobs to Qataris.
Currently, expats overwhelmingly dominate Qatar’s private sector.
According to a Labor Force survey conducted last year by the Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics, Qataris account for less than 1 percent of the total private sector workforce. Additionally, only 5 percent of employed Qataris hold private-sector jobs.
The National Development Strategy (NDS) 2011-16 seeks to boost this figure to 15 percent.
Anecdotally, sectors such as human resources and administration are now said to be dominated by Qataris, delegates at the recent How Women Find Work conference heard.
Separately, Qatar’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs is heading up a regional team to look at issues facing domestic workers in the region, and will report on its findings the same ministerial summit.
A long-awaited unified contract regulating the recruitment and employment of domestic workers across all GCC states is one of the key issues expected to be discussed at this time.
This had been first proposed in early 2013, but then stalled in subsequent talks as member states failed to agree on clauses such as a mandatory day off and maximum working hours.
Earlier this year, Al Jassim said that another draft of the contract would be discussed in November.
The owner of a local recruitment agency, Hamad Mohamed Afeefa, told Al Raya that plans for setting up a permanent committee to examine issues around hiring maids would also be raised at the ministerial meeting.
Government officials and representatives from recruitment agencies would sit on the committee, which would have the power to set up GCC-wide agreements with countries to source domestic labor, the Peninsula said.
Qatar has recently introduced multiple measures tightening restrictions on recruitment agencies, particularly those supplying manual and construction workers, and launched a month-long inspection campaign in response to a slew of complaints by expats and nationals.
Topping the list of customer frustrations are high agency fees, domestic workers who run away and agencies’ failure to replace women who choose to leave their sponsor.
The law bans agents from charging fees to recruit workers to Qatar and requires that all expats have a written contract signed before they enter the country.
However, a number of reports have found that some agents here and in the popular labor-sending countries do not follow these rules.