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Date Jan 31, 2013

Challenges but 'no lack of talent' for Gulf workforce nationalisation

Steven Bond, Reporter
Thursday, January 31 - 2013

As GCC states continue to nationalise their workforces the main challenges they face are attitudinal, not lack of talent, say experts.

Only last month the Saudi labour ministry announced it was exploring the possibility of Saudising the kingdom's retail sector in an effort to employ more young locals - particularly women.

Since then, King Abdullah made way for women to fill 20% of seats in the unelected Shura Council, a parliament with no formal powers, and Qatar's labour ministry has followed suit just this week, forming a committee to oversee the workforce nationalisation programme in the private sector.

In Saudi Arabia the initiative is named Nitaqat, translated into English as 'ranges' - i.e. a range of opportunities on offer. The programme is designed to address the decline of Saudis in the private sector, but is perceived in some corners as an onerous burden on business owners.

The scheme, established in 2011, rewards companies for compliance but penalises those failing to recruit the required number of nationals.

"When the oil business picked up in the '70s, they dealt with it by employing expatriates and of course all the support industries were run by newcomers," explains Ian Thomas, Regional Director for HRSG Middle East. "That backed them into a corner, because instead of training Saudis they brought in both expertise and cheap labour from outside."

Locals scored jobs in the public sector, which became bloated and then came the issue of lower private sector pay and the stigma surrounding cheap labour.

"It's not just a matter of putting sanctions on employees, notably SMEs, who don't employ Saudis," Thomas tells AMEinfo. "The sanctions include stopping visas for companies bringing in more than a 70% expatriate workforce. The worst problem is an attitudinal one, with a reluctance from young Saudis to do the work."

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