BY Azmat Haroon
DOHA: As the job market in the GCC countries continues to expand, a paradox of this region is that skills required for a majority of jobs here cannot be found among the local population.
Sections of the GCC communities say their governments seem to favour Westerners against their own people by offering them influential positions in the private and government sectors.
An increasing number of young Qataris — men and women — are returning to Doha after being educated in the US and the UK and many members of the local community wondered why the government is still not keen to employ them in managerial positions while also simultaneously promoting them.
A number of Western expats this newspaper spoke to lashed out at locals for their comments in social media campaigns, saying they even don’t know what professional qualifications mean.
One Western expatriate said he wondered why such accusations were not being made against ‘Asian expatriates’, some of whom have been working in “enviable” positions here for many years.
“I hate to say this but some Arabs think Asians are less than them. They have an in-built inferiority complex against Westerners,” a British expatriate, who did not want his name in print, said.
The expatriate, who is a long-time resident of Doha, said he had seen the Qatari community go through major transformations over the years and rued that many from the younger generation no longer had any ‘respect for anyone’.
“Back then, they had respect. Now, they don’t seem to have any respect for expatriates, especially the younger generation.”
Another expatriate from the UK, who works in the government sector, lamented recent remarks in social media campaigns criticising Westerners.
“Many locals don’t realise just how challenging it is for expatriates to live here. From the way people drive on roads, to the sponsorship system, many of us feel certain insecurities living here. Perhaps they have to pay us more to compensate for that.”
In a tongue-and-cheek remark, he said had he not been based in the GCC region, he would not have feared to give his name while commenting on the issue.
“Qataris are culturally and socially different from us. Westerners don’t feel comfortable talking about their issues because they fear they might offend people, and then they will be punished for it.”
Still a majority felt that the locals don’t understand what professional qualification means, and went as far as to say that they probably did not even know what they were talking about.
Professional qualification was not just about earning a Master’s degree. People needed to ‘work hard’ for five to seven years after graduating from university, which meant working mornings and evenings shifts, something a majority of locals were just not used to.
Because of cultural reasons, many were also not used to reading when they go back home from workplaces.
Paul Easy, a British expatriate who runs a recruitment agency, said that a majority of people with false qualifications were actually Arabs, adding that Westerners that came to the Gulf had strong professional experience of working in large organisations.
“Why did Qatari organisations hire Westerners — supposedly with no qualification, in the first place? It’s because organisations need people with experience.”
He said locals are the ones drawing the largest sums of salaries here. “How many Westerners have latest Land Cruisers? Their number is still far less compared with the local population.”
Easy pointed out there was also pressure on Qataris from their peers and family members who told them that just after six months of experience, they had to become managers.
The social demographics of Qatar are changing at a very fast pace, and an increasing number of Westerners are now heading to the Gulf due to the shortage of jobs in Europe.
In a UK-based group of civil engineers in Qatar, for instance, the number of professionals has gone up to 500 over the last 15 months.
One expatriate from the US, who said she worked in Jordan prior to coming here, said she felt ‘out of place’ here.
“I have been in Qatar for two years but I have not been to the home of any local yet. They don’t seem to want to mix with us to that extent,” said Jane, who did not want to give her second name.
Speaking about challenges of adjusting in the Gulf, she said that on most days she did not feel comfortable going out.
“I am always confused about what to wear and what not to wear. I actually had an Arab lady lecture me once on how to dress in public,” she said.
Asked about criticism against Westerners drawing large salaries, one expatriate from Australia said corporations based in the Gulf tend to pay as little as possible. “They pay people at the market rate,” said Mark Stephen, adding that professional Westerners did not face a shortage of job offers from many countries in the world.
“Countries like Qatar have to give us incentives to work here because they have major development projects coming up but they don’t have the manpower.”
Some also said that Westerners enjoyed ‘fat-salaries’ in the Gulf only until 2007-08, and that trend had gone down significantly after the European economic crisis.
“With the economic crisis and lack of jobs in Europe, a lot of people started to look for jobs elsewhere and many saw better opportunities in the Middle East.
“Many of us are still waiting for the crisis to end so that we can go back home,” said a Spanish expatriate who has been working here for two years.
One British IT professional believes that Arabs tend to favour Westerners.
“I think the key to this is partly in the Arab desire to build things which they think are accepted by the developed world.
“They are obsessed with outward appearances and pay scant regard to real process and value,” he said.
“Having a few Westerners on your team gives you that air of acceptance and respectability,” he said.
He said that even China hires Westerners to sit on board of directors’ positions, but in reality they do nothing.
DOHA: A column recently written by Qatari journalist Faisal Al Marzuqi making accusations of abuse of power against the Western top-brass of a key government-backed organisation, has led to a debate in the Qatari community and the rest of the GCC communities about how relevant “fat-salaried” Western expatriates are to the region.
Many claim it is not fair to give Westerners salaries “of over QR60,000” when they do not even hold professional qualifications and said the only reason many of them came to countries in the Gulf was because they could not get jobs back home.
Some locals felt that companies in Gulf paid more to Westerners compared to them.
They said some corporations have a ‘false impression’ of all Westerners as being ‘smart’, even though they may not have strong academic backgrounds, and hire them in top positions unfairly.
“Westerners know how to market them better than others, as they come from a more competitive background,” said a young Qatari professional working in a semi-government organisation.
“There is a misconception that all Westerners are smart compared to other nationalities.
“But it’s only their skills, experience and qualifications that should matter,” he said.
Esraa Al Sheeb, a young Qatari, said that many Qataris feel Westerners were like ‘strangers’ and that he found it difficult to adjust with them.
“My mother works at an independent school and she’s now the only Qatari in her department. She’s surrounded by Westerners, which makes her uncomfortable at times.
“She has a Turkish colleague and even though she is not Muslim, my mother gets along just fine with her.”
She said many locals felt that the government only wantsto hire Westerners in key positions in Qatar, especially in the education sector.
“The government wants to bring all Westerners in all the sectors and make them head important projects as well the education system.
“Some of us are now feeling as if the government is treating them better than they treat Qataris,” she said.
Some Qatari professionals also claimed that only half of the Western expatriates in Qatar have a strong professional background.
“We don’t have people with necessary expertise in several fields, which should be the only reason for employing them.
“It’s that group of Westerners who can’t earn enough in their countries who come here,” said another Qatari working in a government organisation.
“Westerners come here for two or three years, make money and leave. But Asians stay for long periods and tend to be loyal. These people should be given better positions and salaries,” he suggested.
However, he admitted that an increasing number of corporations in Qatar were headed by Qataris or Arabs.
There is also a group of people in the local community that feels that they can work just as well in some positions given to Western expatriates.
“I agree there is a shortage of experienced Qatari professionals.
“But we have many in our community who are young and just as good for manager level positions,” said a young Qatari woman who works as a communication specialist.
“Now you don’t need to pay more to a Westerner to convince him to work in Qatar as long as you pay him an average salary, it’s fine.
“Instead some years ago you had to pay him a lot to convince him to come and work here since he had better jobs in Europe,” she said.
Some Western professionals also said that the cost of living in the West is very high.