Unemployment among their nationals is a challenge in three Gulf states — Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. And yet they differ on how they need to address the problem.
A credible report assumes jobless rates of 8.1 per cent, 7.4 and 5.6 in Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Notably, some Saudi sources put unemployment at a considerably higher rate after factoring in higher non-participation among females. Additionally, joblessness is in double-digit territory among youths.
Some of the unemployed could still find temporary work. In Saudi Arabia, a good number, including migrants, perform services in return for money during the annual Haj season and Umrah, notably in the month of Ramadan.
In Bahrain, a certain number find temporary jobs during the Formula One season. Likewise, some locals seek job opportunities in tourism-related categories.
However, not all these activities are properly documented in the absence of a comprehensive tax regime. A plan is underway for applying value-added tax on goods in 2018, though final details are not out yet.
Saudi Arabia has adopted the policy of restricting certain jobs for locals, while Oman does not issue visas for numerous professions. Bahrain has opted for the choice of opening up the labour market to competition.
Saudi Arabia is home to millions of foreign workers, with private sector firms employing a staggering 8.7 million workers, according to figures released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development. This is supplemented by nearly 720,000 domestic workers. The kingdom is one of the largest recipient of foreign nationals in the world.
In Saudi Arabia, the restricted list includes chief administrator of human resources at government and private sector companies, head of personnel department, director of labour affairs, director of personnel relations and public relations. In Oman, the Ministry of Manpower restricted issuance of visas from January for the jobs of carpentry, aluminium workshops, blacksmith, and operating brick kilns.
For its part, Bahrain allows immigrant workers to change sponsors under certain conditions like end of contracts. A a new drive calls for granting foreign workers meeting certain conditions flexible working permits, allowing to work for more than one employer.
Certainly, each nation faces unique opportunities and challenges, but any adopted choice ought to have all things considered. In Oman, only nationals can work as taxi drivers, in turn expected to provide information about the sultanate’s deep-rooted cultural and touristic sites.
However, there is a downside to this practice. At least a small section of taxi drivers in Oman resist transporting passengers to nearby destinations unless they agree to pay above market rates. Others turn down business on the pretext of traffic congestion. Conversely, in Dubai, taxi drivers cannot refrain from driving passengers to any destination. In fact, users need to advise drivers about their intended destination before boarding the vehicles.
The public sector in the Gulf is not in a position to lend a helping hand in overcoming the joblessness issue. Recently, authorities in Oman shocked prospective job seekers by declaring that governmental entities could only employ 10 per cent of the 35,000-strong annual entrants to the job market.
This leaves a burden on private sector employees. The new policy serves as testimony of the limits of job opportunities in the public sector in the low-oil price environment.
The writer is a Member of Parliament in Bahrain.