For those familiar with the make-up of the workforce in the UAE, the policy of Emiratisation is nothing new, but recent statements made by the UAE’s Minister of Labour indicate that the project is now of top priority with 2013 being declared the “Year of Emiratisation”.

The initiative, previously launched by the UAE Government over a decade ago, is essentially dedicated to finding meaningful employment for its citizens in an effort to empower them to run the country (and thereby reducing the current reliance on the expatriate workforce) – for more information see

Emiratisation in Abu Dhabi

Traditionally, Emirati graduates have taken up positions within the public sector (with expatriate workers dominating the private sector) – recent reports, though, suggest that the public sector will no longer be able to accommodate the ever increasing number of Emirati graduates entering the workplace in the UAE.  It is therefore now more imperative than ever that the balance is re-addressed with the challenge being to increase the number of UAE nationals in the private sector.

Recent statements from the UAE Minister of Labour, Saqr Ghobash, indicate that a number of proposals, aimed at addressing this imbalance, are being placed on the UAE Government’s agenda (see Emiratisation drive at full throttle).

Such items include:

  • amendments to Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 (the Labour Law) to provide for enhanced leave including a guaranteed two day weekend for the private sector;
  • Government subsidising the wage disparity between public sector and private sector roles for UAE nationals;
  • the creation of an unemployment insurance scheme; and
  • the potential introduction of a minimum wage for UAE nationals (although this was stated to be viewed as something to be considered at a later stage).

Clearly the closing of the gap by way of amendments to the existing Labour Law will be viewed with ongoing interest, particularly amongst the expatriate workers residing in the UAE – but what may attract the biggest interest (and what appears to have been an ongoing topic over recent years) is how to address the mindset of young Emiratis such that the upcoming generations aspire to venture and succeed in the private sector.  Various initiatives have been, and are continuing to be, developed in an effort to target and educate future generations in order to shape the identity of the Emirates in the twenty-first century.  These include:

  • the Khalifa Fund – which, amongst other things, provides financial resources for supporting programmes aimed at encouraging nationals to enter the private labour sector;
  • the Emirates Foundation – which is an independent organisation using venture philanthropy to help young people reach their full potential;
  • numerous training programmes and leadership courses have been developed between local universities and large private sector employers; and
  • regular career expos and events, including the Careers UAE Exhibition (now in its 13th year and which has recently launched a new on-line jobs portal) – the aim being to bring local graduates face to face with a diverse range of exhibitors.

Foreign businesses entering the UAE market should be mindful of the Emiratisation initiatives and be alert to the expectations and commitments required.  In particular, licence obligations may be placed on private sector employers requiring active recruitment and training of Emiratis.  Participation by the employer in some of the initiatives mentioned above may assist together with the development by the employer of good relations with local universities, educational and Government bodies in order to agree and discuss solutions which enable the employer to fulfil its obligations.

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