Emiratisation has been a buzz-word in the UAE for as long as I can remember: hardly a month goes by without some sort of conference, article or government initiative devoted to the issue. Unfortunately, this attention is not always combined with joined-up thinking when it comes to dealing with the issue.
This week’s announcement of a rise in public-sector pay has left many private companies wondering how they can afford to attract Emirati staff.
The 70 per cent increase in federal salaries is a realignment of a 2008 rise and will not affect nationals’ take-home pay. But it will dramatically increase their pension entitlements and future pay rises, making federal government jobs an even more attractive proposition than they are now.
Given such government largesse, the following statistics are therefore not surprising:
While Emiratis make up 54 per cent of employees in federal ministries, they account for less than one per cent of private-sector staff.
Because Emiratis command a premium salary for government work and prefer the social and cultural comfort zone a government job offers, many are unwilling to work for less in the private sector, often preferring long-term unemployment.
With an estimated 16,000 Emirati graduates entering the workforce every year, the unemployment rate among nationals is now about 13 per cent. At the same time, the country imports more than 80 per cent of the population to fill 90 per cent of its jobs.
Unlike many other countries, this situation is fairly sustainable economically due to the UAE’s accumulated oil wealth and ongoing oil income. The real question though is whether it is socially and culturally sustainable.
Feddah Abdulla Lootah, the acting director general of Tanmia, which oversees federal Emiratisation efforts, admitted high public-sector pay was a barrier. “Most Emiratis prefer to work in the government sector because of the pay; that is what we are facing now.” However, Ms Lootah added that pay was not the only concern. “They say government is more secure. In private-sector jobs, they always ask about performance and productivity.”
How unreasonable of them.
Tanmia was in the process of drafting suggestions for private companies to attract Emiratis without increasing pay, she said.
This is one of the things that annoys me about so much discussion of this issue: the assumption that it is the private sector that needs to change in order to fix a problem that is not of their making. The private sector is pretty occupied right now trying to create wealth amidst a global recession.
Something else in the article caught my attention:
The International Council on Security and Development interviewed 310 Emiratis between the ages of 16 and 26. (…) A large proportion of Emiratis considered secondary and higher education to be sub-par, saying it did not prepare them for the working world. More than a third decried a lack of adequate English skills as hampering their search for jobs. They also said they needed more practical career advice.
It really isn’t rocket science: equip people with the necessary skills to work in the private sector and don’t undermine the incentives to do so. It’s just a shame that this seems beyond some people.
A three-year-old pilot programme in state-run schools fails to adequately teach Arabic, which is a “breach of the Constitution”, a Federal National Council committee said yesterday.
In schools using the Madares al Ghad system, classes taught in Arabic have been reduced from seven to five per week and classes taught in English increased from six to 10.
Mathematics and science are taught in English. Less time is spent on rote memorisation and greater emphasis is placed on problem-solving and interactive learning.
The FNC committee’s report said this had “negatively affected teaching the Arabic language, which leads the committee to deem this as a deepening of foreign cultures.”
The question I would pose to the FNC is this: is local culture better served by a society in which the vast majority of its citizens are either unemployed or absorbed by a burgeoning public sector? Then again, logic does not seem to play a large part in these proceedings.
In April, principals of a number of schools under the Madares al Ghad programme complained during a meeting of the FNC committee that the teaching of science and maths in English was undermining the pupils’ Arabic skills.
One said the Arabic vocabulary of younger children was so poor that some could not name their body parts.
I’m sorry, but at some point parental responsibility has to rear its head here. Presumably Arabic is the language spoken at home, so why are they arriving at primary school lacking even the most basic vocabulary? In addition, a third of the week is still taught in Arabic under the new scheme, so what precisely are they doing in that time? Playing tiddlywinks?
The level of debate gets even better:
“Everyone talks about the needs of the job market to justify the need for English language,” said Yousef al Nuaimi, a member from Ras al Khaimah.
“If we’re talking about the labour market, why are some people who speak no English getting paid four times more than doctors who are taught in English?
I’m sorry, but this is just gibberish. Who are these people getting paid four times more than doctors? Are they in the public or private sector? Even if there is an actual case, such faulty generalisation is not a sound basis for national educational policy. If you employ this logic you could argue that as there are some very successful people (Alan Sugar, for example) who did not go to university, it therefore follows that higher education is not useful.
“We have imposed [English] everywhere. We go to malls and salesmen speak in English as if we are in a foreign country. Would that happen if we go to an Asian country?”
Er, quite possibly in many parts of Asia. Funnily enough, a lot of people around the world seem very keen to learn English in order to improve their economic prospects. Google ‘English schools in china’ for example and you’ll get around 47 million results. You are certainly far more likely to effectively communicate with a Vietnamese shop-keeper in English than in Arabic, which is really the whole point. I am not criticising the Arabic language and am certainly not claiming that English is an innately superior language; however, due to historical circumstances English now serves a vital role as the world’s second language. One can fulminate against this fact and the malign influence of foreign cultures, but this really doesn’t help anyone.