On Labour: How UAE Can Have Its Cake and Eat It Too!

Did you know that there are more Indians in the UAE than there are Emiratis? In fact, there are over twice as many Indians.

There are more Pakistanis too!

The United Arab Emirates is one of those rare countries where expats outnumber locals. Of the 10 million people living in the UAE, 88% are expats. They come from countries like the two already mentioned, and Bangladesh, the Philippines, Egypt, Sri Lanka and China. 

Most of these are migrant labour employed in construction, banking & finance, and retail. In the past two decades, the country has witnessed a red-hot boom in construction, infrastructure and real estate. With Dubai leading the seven emirates, UAE has seen the rise of mega-projects like the:

Add to these a hi-speed railway, an international airport, and countless buildings, condominium and malls, and you have one of the busiest construction sites in the world.   

At one point, Dubai was said to have employed 25% of the world’s cranes, numbering around 30,000. With a population of 1.3 million, that would be one crane for every 44th person living in Dubai.

This construction boom was borne not only on the backs of heavy machinery and cutting-edge engineering but on migrant labour, of men and women leaving their home countries to work in the Middle East and contribute to nation-building.

Speaking of migrant workers, the issue of migration has always been a complex subject. There are pros and cons, and the UAE has to continually play a balancing act if it is to make the system work for everybody.

So let’s quickly talk about the advantages and disadvantages for the host country. Looking at it in the context of engineering and construction, for example, might help.

Benefits of Migrant Labour

1) Access to highly skilled labour

Construction projects, especially the types they excel at in Dubai, need engineers and craftsmen with the special skills to match the vision. Unfortunately, a limited local population means a limited pool of workers to choose from. Locals might already be gainfully employed elsewhere, or sometimes, nobody might even be qualified for the job.

Developing the skills organically, though possible, will take time and more money—and things like public infrastructure can scarcely be delayed.

Migrant labour solves all of the above, providing instant expertise. Other countries might already be specializing in the very thing you want. For example, when Dubai was developing Palm Jumeirah and “The World,” they tapped the services of two Dutch companies that specialized in the type of construction required.

Taking people in, you tap on their knowledge and expertise to help the cause of nation-building.  

2) Affordable cost of labour

If it’s brute force and strength in numbers you require, you might want to shop around. Other countries might be cheaper. Factors like currency exchange rates allow one to fill the same roles at lower wages.

The construction business, for example, needs a lot of manpower, so every little saving in labour costs goes a long way. Companies typically hire from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh because of the attractive savings that these nations offer.

And for countries like UAE, with a small population but a big vision, it almost behoves them to look to other nations for workers.

3) A host of benefits for the host country

Economically speaking, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), migrants increase both the productivity and GDP per person of the host country. For every percentage increase of migrants in the adult population, the host country’s GDP per person increases by 2%.

And, by filling up essential positions in society, low-skilled migrants allow locals to turn to more complex occupations, where, speaking the local language, they have a natural advantage. They call this the “nanny effect,” where locals can put in more hours into their careers and jobs because they have migrant helpers doing the upkeep of the house.  

Finally, migrants enrich the culture of the place they live in. Bringing their cherished traditions, food and language, they lend vibrance and infuse energy to the local culture.

Drawbacks of Migrant Labour

1) Burdening the host country

Opening one’s doors do have some negative consequences. Much of it is one is bringing waves of people into a (small) country.

The sheer numbers alone will impact the host in many ways. And it’s not just the morning traffic we’re concerned about here. Where will one house the workers? Is the government going to provide healthcare for migrants? What policies ensure that the workers respect local laws and traditions? 

There might be plenty of advantages to migrant labour, but it also adds to the complexity of things on the ground. 

 2) Squeezing locals out of jobs

Migrants can unwittingly compete with locals for the very same jobs, which could lead to a “race to the bottom” situation where you have cycles of ever-decreasing wages.

Since migrants are often more accepting of lower wages, they’re able to corner certain jobs or get hired before locals. Employers think, “Why would I hire locals when I can fill the same roles for much less?” So locals are forced to accept the lower going rate or find other jobs.

The situation would play to the advantage of employers but would be a bane to the local population who are also only trying to move up the socioeconomic ladder.  

This would lead to #3.

3) Integration issues

Not only are they competing for the very same jobs, but locals and migrants could have very different beliefs and traditions. Mistrust and miscommunication easily breed between dissimilar groups.

Biases and stereotypes can pit one group against another. Each camp will have its own set of grievances. The locals, feeling like strangers in their own country, will try to assert their native rights, while the migrants, fearful of being treated as second class citizens, will do the same.

In the end, when it comes to labour and migration, there’s a set of pros and cons that require a balancing act. Host countries like the UAE and employers need to compromise and take the bad with the good.

That is, until today…

The Remote Staffing Solution

With today’s tech, employers from the UAE can have their cake and eat it too, enjoying the benefits of migrant labour—access to expert talent, at a low cost—without the unwanted calories, without having to contend with the issues of migration. In short, they can have the best of both worlds.

This is thanks to “remote staffing.”

It is when instead of coming to UAE for work, employees perform the work remotely, staying in their home countries.

It’s a win-win work setup where employees forego going abroad, leaving families behind. Employers, to their benefit, will never again go through the long and tedious process of bringing employees into the country. And for this hassle-free experience? They even get to enjoy lower labour rates.

A decade ago, this was not possible. The brick-and-mortar nature of the work means one needed to report to a construction site to fulfil a role. They were building highways then. Today, we’re cruising the information superhighway and the nature of jobs have fundamentally changed. They have migrated online.

Jobs like the following are now done completely online:

Kinetic Innovative Staffing is a Middle East partner in migration-less manpower, providing countries like the UAE with remote workers for a wide range of industries.  

We help companies hire competent and affordable remote professionals for any online job. If you think remote staffing is for you and your company, we can help you make that shift as smooth as possible.

Kinetic has a database of over 4 million remote professionals from the Philippines.

Our record can pretty much speak for itself, but here’s what some of our present clients have to say.

In this age where companies and countries can have their cake and eat it too, Kinetic makes sure that you get a darn good slice of that pie.


Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.

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