Qatarization seems to be the hottest topic these days and it also seems to be deeply related to the tension between foreigners and Qataris. So I would like to dedicate this post to discuss ‘Qatarization’
Qatarization is part of the newest trend in the gulf, Gulfization. All six countries of the GCC has started similar labour market strategies and Qatar is no exception. The need to initiate such strategy was due to recognition of threats of increase dependence on foreign labour and lack of developed national workforce. But the huge influx of labour was inevitable since the oil boom, as rapid growth required foreign professional labour to fill the gap of insufficient national labour. Moreover, there has been, and still many challenges to the development of Qatari human capital, and until these challenges were addressed and solved, a professional foreign labour was heavily imported.
Since the oil boom and until today, most nationals are employed within the public sector for several reasons. First, many of them do not have the necessary skills to work in private sector; second, even if they acquired the necessary skills needed the private sector lacked incentives compared with public sector and finally, some Qataris might feel overwhelmed by foreigners who dominate private sector and so do not feel comfortable in such environment.
However, one must point out that Qatari government employs more than what it actually needs as a measure for income distribution and creating jobs to ensure its legitimacy. What matters is not the number of the people employed, what matters is their productivity and it is something hard to measure. As for employment, the greater part of the national population were assured governmental functions or employment provided by the State. One must indicate, during the early popularization of such policies especially that of employment, significant number of nationals still had minimal education and even sometimes approaching illiterately levels. This had made it clear that the majority of state employees were misallocated, either under qualified or underutilized. If Qatar had a different economic model in the sense of extraction of finance from down to the top, this chunk of state employees would have been unneeded and in the competitive developed economies model, they would have gotten rid of. However, the purpose of this system is not similar to that of the western world, but it is simply to circulate the excess of GDP, granting a political stability through a gratified population. Thus, making the approach toward development unstable, where Qatar would have been better off investing in its human capital, education and health, and understood the long run impact it would had on development.
Moving forward, the government has recognized such challenges and addressed them through diversifying economy; education reform; labour market strategy and Qatarization. I won’t go through details of LMS and goals of Qatraization. What I would like to discuss is what is wrong with Qatarization strategy.
First, Qatarization policy is still not fully developed; the policy did not indicate which positions exactly should be Qatarized. It did not also consider that Qatarization could be more difficult in some sectors more than others, such as technical positions in oil based industries. And finally, it is not realistic and didn’t consider that transferring knowledge and technologies would take more than the time expected in the plan.
second, the policy lacks proper monitoring and evaluation system. According to RAND, there has been no deliberate strategy of evaluating the effects of initiated reforms. Even if such thing was intended to happen, the evaluation will face problems of limited experience and lack of data due to lack of administrative state structure, unmonitored population movement and other cultural factors. Due to lack of monitoring, there is no real evidence of the quality of training and care that Qataris are receiving.
What is happening is that Qatar’s labour laws give preference in hiring first to Qataris, then to other Arabs and finally to other foreigner. This could be true in the public sector; however, in the private sector where “ceo’s” are western expats, this is not entirely true. What happens is that these companies are under pressure to fulfil the required quota in a certain time which leads to misallocation of Qataris in different companies. Being in a rush does not allow enough time to create a proper training programme for them. A lot of western expatriates do not see the necessity of coaching developing and mentoring the newly joining Qatari workface. There is no check and balance system that scrutinize the claimed or propagated high percentage of Qatarization in those companies. Many are holding low paid positions with no opportunity for skill development. And the figures are presented to the Ministry of Labour as evidence of Qatarization are thus deceiving.
Therefore, it is a big possibility that foreign labour hinders the development of national labour. In a study made by Dr Hend Jolo on Human Capital Formation within Oil and Gas Based Industry, she conducted Interviews with recently recruited Qatari workers, who had completed their industrial technical training program. She found that the majority of them were not assigned to operation and production positions which would have given them the opportunity to practice their new skills and knowledge. Instead, they were assigned trivial jobs, non-production tasks such as security guards. Even when some of them were assigned to production jobs, most of the tasks were done by their peer expatriates, which may have prevented them from direct interaction with machinery and plant. This is perhaps due to the lack of job security for the expatriate, partly the result of the announced ‘Qatarization’ policy in the sector. It is, therefore, difficult to expect expatriates to be self-motivated to train Qatari workers and encourage them to develop their skills, though their employment agreements emphasise such task.
The point here is not to put the blame on foreigners for lack of training, the public sector which is fully run by Qataris also suffers from the same problem. One should take a look at promotion and reward policies and see if they are implemented fairly. For example, at the Ministry of Foreign affairs, girls graduating with BA in political science or engineering were not given the same treatment as their fellow male colleagues who graduated from similar universities and started working at the same time. All girls from different departments were shoved in one floor and did not get any promotion or training programs or even the opportunity to participate in projects compared with their male colleagues who had two promotions in two years and were sent abroad on several training courses. This situation created frustration and disappointment among young women graduates who just started their career at the Ministry.
Third, the education system and training are inadequate to create a national workforce that could compete in global markets. According to RAND education in the Arab region are often ill prepared to work in a global economy. Qatar’s current per pupil expenditure as a percent of GDP per capita is still relatively low. Countries with similar GDP per capita levels invest on average twice as much on their students. This suggests that Qataris will join the labor market with less preparation than their counterparts from other countries.
In Qatar, inappropriate educational background and lack of training were major obstacles contributing to the limited improvement and development of workers’ competence and performance.
Qatarization policy does not regard other factors and externalities that influence its success. To start with, it ignores the important link between education institutions and labour market demand as well as training within different corporations. Ignoring this link results in inability of those institutions in providing industry with the required technical skills.
In this situation, the government is responsible for education while corporations are responsible for training. If the basic education was not provided then this will increase the burden on corporations to spend more on training. At the same time, if employees were provided with excellent education but did not find the proper training they require it will be a lost effort.
Fourth, social attitude and cultural norms are excluded and not considered in the policy. Despite changes and recent openness in the society, there are still differences of opportunities for education and work between men and women. Increase in women education could lead to false assumption of enhancement in their position in the labour market. There has been indeed development but it is far less than what is expected when considering their educational qualifications. In 2007, two thirds of employed Qatari women had higher education, compared with just 31 per cent of Qatari men. One should not neglect the broader historical social and political context in which gender relations are constructed. For example, many Qatari women are reluctant to work in jobs that require them to spend long hours at work and away from their families or that involve working in a mixed-gender environment.
In the Brira file blog, an interesting point about Qatari culture was raised.
“ Arabian culture is similar to those of most Eastern cultures in the sense that it is a collective society. Arabian culture emphasizes the group. Confrontation is avoided and disagreement is conveyed privately to protect the person from ‘loss of face’. Words such as “Inshallah” (God willing) are used to convey negative expressions instead of saying a direct ‘No’. Respect for elders, the significance of tradition, family honor and expectations, concern for one’s reputation are deep-rooted principles. It is a fact that Arabs are generous, polite and value loyalty. You may compare these values to those of individualist cultures which Anglo societies fall under. These tend to place emphasis on the individual, goals and expectations of the individual are promoted, there is no need to conform to a group, and people are encouraged to rely on themselves.
These differences lead to cultural shock which symptoms might include: heightened irritability, constant complaints about the climate, utopian ideas concerning one’s previous culture, continuous concern about the purity of water and food, fear of contacting local people, refusal to learn the language, a pressing desire to talk with people who “really make sense”, and preoccupation with returning home. Qatari dissatisfaction is not aimed at expats themselves but at government policies that are overly accommodating to foreigners in managerial roles”
Fifth, government policies are contradicting and do not consider externalities that might influence outcomes of Qatarization as well as ignoring local culture influence. Current governmental strategies are adopted based on the advices and plans of foreign companies and institutes, who view the region as business projects rather than nations and governments who have a duty to build their countries, empower their citizens through a process of sustainable national development – development by the citizen and for the citizen.
The most important externality is transformation of demographics of the labour force and its effects on National work force. These changes lead to imbalance between national and foreign population as well as imbalance between genders. The sudden increase of foreign labour and cultural clash between Qataris and foreigners lead to tension between the two groups as was mentioned earlier by Brira. Locals started to feel as suffocated minority in their own country where they can’t even speak their own language in shops and restaurants anymore.
According to Dr Ali Khalifa Al-kuwari in his article ‘Demographic Imbalance in Gulf Countries’, Governments of the gulf did not consider that by brining so much labour it could cause some infringement of citizen rights. Negative externalities such as on infrastructure (housing, sewage, security), society (discrimination, potential assimilation, loss of culture), stability (source of discontent, political pressure), and national pride (dependence on foreigners for key functions and associated vulnerability). National choices and public decisions seem to be unaffected by the demographic imbalance, and disrespectful of the rights of citizens, including the need to safeguard their language, identity and existence. Construction expansion – a nationally unjustified choice – spearheads the so-called development; the loss of the homelands, the disintegration of the national communities, and the endangerment of the future of the coming generations
Dr Al-kuwari says that when nationals become minority groups in their countries, when their cultural, productive and administrative roles are subordinate to those of foreigners, when their living conditions are dependent on donations, administrative decisions, and on an ever diminishing legal protection, they are left helpless in an unfair competition against elite of immigrants who came from different parts of the world. In such a competition, the status of nationals in Qatar would be similar to that of the Malay in Singapore, who have been politically, culturally, socially, and economically subordinated to the Chinese immigrants.
Even after implementing the policy, there is still concentration of nationals in public sector. According to General Secretariat for Development Planning. Qataris constituted only 12% of the labour force in the year 2001. The increase of foreign labour however was so great that it made the slight increase of Qataris participation in national workforce seem insignificant. In the year 2008, Qataris constitute 12% while foreigners were 94%. In 2007, ratio of Qataris to non-Qataris in the labour force was 1:12, compared with 1:6 in 2001.
So are we a spoilt nation or an oppressed nation?
It is true that statistically Qatari citizens enjoy one of the highest GDP income per capita in the world, however, citizens do not really see much of this wealth as there is hardly any data or proof of income distribution. Some might argue that Qatarization simply does not work because people are spoilt and do not need to work. It is assumed that since the oil boom, the average family income is roughly $60K, and most families far above this through private investments or enterprise. Therefore it is assumed that a large segment of the population does not need to work for the sake of a salary. This means they have ruled out several roles that they do not want to play in organizations or as professionals, including: administrative assistants, or entry level jobs, as well as nearly all jobs that require high contact hours or have low status such as teaching or nursing. How do you motivate a population that does not need to work? Nationals are shying away from private sector jobs due to low pay and less benefits in comparison to government ministries and departments.
In reality Qataris are not as rich as many assume. Not paying taxes and having free utilities does not mean that the population is living an easy rich life. Each individual within households cannot afford the luxury of not working especially with the increase of inflation in the country. It might be true that Qataris do not accept certain jobs such as cleaning or watering but this is due to strict traditional values that put a lot of pressure on how individuals lead their lives. People might be afraid of losing respect in the society due to their choice of work.
All of this result in continued dependence on foreign labour; misallocation and underutilization of Qataris abilities creating tension and dissatisfaction especially among the youth.
What could be done?
It is actually too soon to evaluate the effects of Qatarization; however, this is not an excuse for not developing a proper evaluation and monitoring system to enhance the strategy. There is defiantly a need for further enhancement of education and creating strong links between education institutions and labour market demands. Without training and obtaining cognitive skills education will not pay off; therefore a strict monitoring of training in different corporation is needed to ensure quality Qatarization.