Six-year rule for expats urged
Manama, October 2, 2007
Expat workers could only be allowed to live in the GCC for a maximum of six years under a proposal backed by Bahrain's Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi.
He hopes the proposal will be endorsed at the 28th GCC summit scheduled to take place in Doha, Qatar, in December, said a report in our sister publication the Gulf Daily News.
Dr Al Alawi said the cap was necessary to preserve the identity of the Gulf, which he says is being diluted by foreign workers.
"I felt that introducing the six-year residency cap will not harm businesses and will protect the identity of the Gulf in the long run," he said.
"Such a solution should be endorsed by a pan-Gulf authority like the GCC summit in order to be enforced by the six Gulf governments.
"I pushed for it and it is now in the hands of the GCC leaders. I am waiting for their feedback.
"The proposal was discussed thoroughly in the Abu Dhabi Summit in 2005 and reviewed in the Riyadh Summit last year. I am still optimistic that GCC leaders will endorse it in their upcoming meetings in Doha.
"I can't say it is the ideal solution, but a compromise meant to absorb the cultural impact of foreign workers while ensuring the temporary nature of their presence in the region."
However, he did suggest issuing longer residency permits to foreign workers and even citizenship to those with expertise needed in the GCC.
He also said their rights should be respected and called for an elimination of the sponsorship system, which he had previously said would be scrapped in Bahrain next year.
But he described the dependence on foreign workers as unfair to GCC citizens - adding that Arab and Islamic culture was finding itself overshadowed by expat communities.
"From a legal point of view, and in theory, foreign manpower in the region is temporary," he told the Dubai-based Gulf News.
"But in practice, the foreign labour force has become permanent and the numbers in all GCC countries have been swelling to an extent that they exceed the local population in some of those states.
"The majority of foreign manpower in the region has come from different cultural and social backgrounds that could not assimilate or adapt to the local cultures.
"This foreign workforce came to the Gulf from non-Arab countries with friendly ties with the GCC countries. We need to maintain our friendly ties with these nations.
"(But) the above characteristic of the market has resulted in some problems.
"The growing unemployment among nationals has become a burning issue in most Gulf countries, although the economies of those countries produce thousands of jobs every year.
"We have a mosaic of cultures with minor Arab and Islamic components. It is not fair."
He said that in some Gulf countries: "You can't distinguish if you are in an Arab Muslim country or in an Asian one.
"We can't call this diversity, and no nation on earth would accept the erosion of its own culture on its own land."
As a result, the minister also called for massive changes in the way Gulf countries are developing - saying major projects are failing to provide jobs for GCC citizens.
"In my opinion, we have to reconsider the pace of economic development in the whole region," he is quoted as saying.
"We have to avoid projects that require intensive and cheap manpower and focus on development plans that focus on industries with a high added value.
"We need to invest in local citizens to lead those development plans.
"In some Gulf countries, foreign workers constitute 70 per cent of the total population, living along an acute problem of local unemployment.
"We have structural unemployment because the economy here is generating jobs that are not suitable to the national workforce." - TradeArabia News Service