Foreign Workers in Gulf Nations Face Uncertain Times
Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in some of six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – comprising Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar – are living in the deep, dark hole of uncertainty. After being sacked from their jobs, many have made a beeline for the exits. Some others are planning to quit before being sacked and relocate back home. That’s all the result of the decision of some of the governments to reduce the expatriate workforce and recruit unemployed nationals.
Taking the decision to hire untried locals in place of skilled foreigners was not an easy one. But there was no other option as the protest storm for jobs and reform in the expansive Gulf desert – in the aftermath of the Egyptian uprising – threatened to transform into a cyclone.
In Saudi Arabia, the largest GCC country in terms of land area, with a population of around 26 million, high anxiety roils foreign workers. Their misery began after numerous sops were announced to pacify the protesting youth battered by the high unemployment rate of 30 per cent. Incentives totaling $36 billion were first announced in February with great fanfare. A month later, King Abdullah released another $ 67 billion from his huge hoard of petrodollars for salary raises, bonuses, housing and other benefits for public sector employees. More than 60,000 new jobs in the vast security apparatus were created. Next were measures to force even private firms to go in for the Saudisation of jobs and discourage the employment of foreigners. The master stroke was Abdullah’s recent nod to women, who had always played a marginal role in Saudi society, to stand as candidates and vote in the 2015 municipal polls. The ultra orthodox Wahabi religious establishment was incensed but they are being ignored. Allowing women to drive might be the next big surprise.
The vast desert kingdom’s Sunni majority is silent now. “Most Saudi Sunnis now prefer the status quo and peace after seeing the violence in Yemen, Libya and Syria. Look at the latest clashes in Egypt between the Copts and others in which 24 people have been killed.” said a former Indian journalist who now works for a multi-billion dollar public sector firm in Riyadh. “Hence the chances of any huge protests are virtually zero.”Continued on the next page