Alternatives to the current sponsorship laws in the Gulf are being discussed in a number of countries, according to an expert, who said that he had been consulted on what shape these possible changes may take.
The Dean of the Dubai College of Government, Tarik Yousef, who was in Doha to take part in last night’s episode of Doha Debates, spoke to Gulf Times about the need to do more to protect the expatriate workforce in the Gulf.
“However, it is a need that has been recognised by people in positions of powers, and they are actively seeking ways to improve the situation against the vested interests of their own countries, businessmen and international corporations, who all stand to profit from the cheap labour currently available,” he explained.
“There have already been plans announced in the UAE to appoint some 600 more inspectors to maintain standards throughout worksites,” he added.
He expressed a belief that “the tide has turned,” and that businessmen and construction firms now feel that they have to obey certain rules and regulations or face punishment.
“Of course things are not perfect, and the sponsorship laws at the moment lead to many problems, but the question is – have Gulf countries improved since recognising the situation and the need for change? The answer to this is an emphatic ‘yes’,” he argued.
He claimed that further changes could involve a contract-fixing scheme based on the skill level of an employee. “Rather than tying staff to sponsors, they would be tied to contracts, differing in length depending on their skill,” he said, explaining that this was a possible solution to current problems.
Yousef said that he chose to participate in the debates because of his role in Dubai and the role he believes debate and discussion can play in society: “As an academic and educator concerned with public policy I am very interested in public debate – it is a necessary and health sign of an advancing society.”
“There is a cliché that exists in the rest of the world, that countries in the Gulf being run by royal families that gain all the wealth and couldn’t care less about anyone else,” he said, “when the truth is that the Gulf has offered amazing opportunities and a wonderful standard of living to people from all over the world such as myself.”
“This is a story that is not told enough, and one that the Gulf countries need to start telling; they need to showcase the positive things they have achieved,” he added.
Yousef said that the move to establish a ‘knowledge based economy’ in countries like Qatar was a long-term project, and although the effects of these efforts will not be visible for a long time, “there is no doubt that it will happen.”
“I think it is remarkable that countries that could rely on their natural resources are choosing to invest in education and their citizens,” he added.
Yousef said that he was not sure whether democracy is the way forward for Gulf countries, but argued that good governance was necessary. “We need leaderships that include accountability and participation,” he claimed, “and as the current global financial crisis worsens, people will ask more and more questions, requiring leaders to be clear and accountable.”
“The next 12 months will be tough for everyone in the Gulf; we are not immune or isolated and we simply cannot imagine a situation where we would not be affected by the global crisis,” he said, adding that Gordon Brown’s recent visit to the region was a message from “the right person at the right time”, and showed commitment to involving the Gulf countries in whatever solution is decided.
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