- New Horizons in Management series
Edited by Michael Barry and Adrian Wilkinson
15 Employment relations in oil-rich Gulf countries Kamel Mellahi and Ingo Forstenlechner INTRODUCTION Labour markets of emerging Gulf economies – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Sultanate of Oman – share a wide range of communalities. They are defined by a strong dependence on expatriates, low levels of national workforce participation, uncertainties in the applicability and practicability of the labour law and a lack of understanding of the need to professionally manage people. All of these factors have strong implications for employee relations. For example, investment in human capital has only very recently started to receive attention in most organizations, as it simply wasn’t necessary. Most positions were filled by expatriates who were on one-year visas and discouraged from becoming permanent residents. High turnover numbers were seen as perfectly normal. As Al Ali (2008) notes, this has resulted in a lack of focus on a commitment-oriented corporate culture aimed towards supporting long-term employees with training or career paths. It has not only had implications for expatriates, but also for citizens who joined organizations not used to longer-term employment relations. The low levels of workforce participation in many of the Gulf countries represent an increasingly urgent challenge to governments (Al Qudsi, 2006; Economist, 2007; Abdalla et al., 2008; De Boer and Turner, 2008) and to both local and multinational businesses operating in the region (Al Lamki, 2005; Budhwar and Mellahi, 2006, 2007; Mellahi, 2007; Barhem et al., 2008). This challenge is at the centre of our...
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