Monday, July 03, 2006

Who's In Charge Around Here?

There's a bit of a bitch-fest going on between Gulf News and 7Days at the moment. It's all to do with the recent announcement by the Labour Ministry that they intend to replace all expat HR directors and managers, and all secretarial staff with locals within 18 months.

This sparked a barrage of mail to 7Days from Brits and other Westerners currently employed here in those roles.

Yesterday the eminently sensible Nick Coates wrote a blinder of a piece in Gulf News pointing out the harsh reality of the deal for expat workers: 'We come, we work, we go'. We all know that that is how it has always been, and that is how it is now. It may change in the future, but I'm not holding my breath.

"...I point out that if, in your own country, you were outnumbered 3:1 by foreign nationals, you would feel disgruntled with government policy.
Even more so if the foreigners were employed and you weren't. So perhaps, for a change, expatriates should pause for reflection before making calls for "rights" that do not exist and never have existed."

Today's Gulf News carries a piece that orginally appeared in Al Bayan, GN's Arabic-language sister, written by Ayesha Sultan, presumably a local. 'They insult us in freedom's name'

She is upset that opinions have been published that oppose the Government's policy. She seems to think that expats have no right to express themselves at all. In fact she would like to see the raggedy edges of the English-language press reined in somewhat. She concludes...

"Hence, those who like our laws and rules, are welcome, but those who do not must try to understand and respect them. At the same time, they are not allowed to oppose, insult or be impolite.
Strangers should always be polite and this is the dominant golden rule followed everywhere in the world."

Being a Libran, I can see both sides of the argument. It is imperative that more locals are squeezed into the workforce. But I don't think this is the right way to do it. Similar attempts in other GCC countries have failed. You cannot take a whole chunk of the employment spectrum and expect that almost overnight you can replace highly-qualified and experienced people with folk who've just come off the dole queue. How is that supposed to work? Some of the jobs in question are far from trivial - a company's HR Director is one of the key players in a very senior team alongside the Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Operating Officer, the IT Director and the CEO. The proposal is that initially, only companies with more than 1,000 employees will have to comply. It'll all end in tears.

So, politely, I would say, 'excuse me, I think this needs a little bit more thought.'