25 February 2008

Survey indicates growing discontent amongst Gulf workers

INTERNATIONAL. A combination of the falling dollar and the rising cost of living across the GCC has led to unprecedented levels of discontent among regional employees, according to a study released this week. This is leading to more and more employees to not only consider switching companies, but also explore opportunities in new industries and other countries both in the region and beyond.

The online survey, conducted by the Middle East’s number one job site Bayt.com in conjunction with market research specialists YouGovSiraj, polled 15,000 employees in the six GCC countries across 20 industry sectors, including automotive, finance, advertising, IT and pharmaceuticals.

The study found that employees in the UAE and Qatar were the highest paid last year while Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain also enjoyed the highest annual pay rises in the region, with Qatar averaging 16% a year and the UAE and Bahrain both coming in at 17% compared to 12% in Saudi Arabia, the region’s lowest average.

Across the GCC and across sectors, salary hikes were far outstripped by perceived cost of living increases. The disparity was most pronounced in Qatar, with a perceived average cost of living spike of 38%, which is 22% higher than salary increases. In Dubai, living expenses were alleged to have risen by 37%, representing a gap of 20%.

The widening shortfall between salary increases and the cost of living has led many to consider dramatic steps. In Qatar, 50% of respondents said increases in household expenses have led them to consider relocating to another country or returning home. Oman came in second, with 47%, while Kuwait saw the lowest numbers of professionals looking to leave the country, at 32%. In the UAE, 37% had thought about moving abroad.

In the UAE employers are taking the hit of this economic shortfall, with many employees considering job migration to improve finances. Some 40% of UAE workers said rising expenses might force them to look for a better job in the same industry and 24% said they would consider switching to another industry. In Saudi Arabia, corresponding figures were 45% and 19%. Only 15% of people in Qatar and 20% in Oman said they would consider changing industries.

“In terms of perceived cost of living increases and what this is doing to retention rates, the numbers are cause for concern,” said Rabea Ataya, CEO, Bayt.com. “Around 70% of the survey’s respondents said they’ve held two or more jobs in the past five years. On average, people change jobs about once every two years. We also found that loyalty improved as salaries increased. Employers who do not close the gap between earnings and living expenses will have difficulty attracting and retaining people.”

He added: “On a more positive note, a fair number of people tend to view their situation as being better than their peers, 40% of people in the UAE say they believe this, 46% in Qatar and 38% in Saudi Arabia. People are generally more content when they feel their lives measure up well against their peers, so how businesses reward employees in relation to each other can have almost as much of an impact as overall salary rates. A lot of human resource management is about perceptions.”

Such insights, said Nassim Ghrayeb, CEO of YouGovSiraj, underscored the importance of supplementing broad economic indicators with individual surveys.

“The value of research like this is that it gets to the heart of what people think and feel about their employment status and about their finances, providing a grass-roots understanding of people’s beliefs and concerns and allowing employers to act accordingly.”

He added: “The story here is not just about employees. The pinch is also being felt by businesses themselves, with many workers planning to move on. These results reveal just how much of a headache the spiralling cost of living and weak dollar is having on employers, who also need to consider their margins.”

In terms of industry, banking and finance topped the monthly salary scale and those in education fared the worst. Banking and finance also enjoyed some of the most generous raises in 2007, with hikes averaging 18%.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

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What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

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